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Say Dunsany

Once the crate was securely on the raft, Malus pushed off and navigated through the warren of flooded tunnels under Clockhaven. Milo was glad that it was too dark to see the water, if, in fact, it was water. But he supposed it was. It didn’t smell as bad as he thought a sewer should smell. Malus gestured towards something to the right. 

“Truth is, we ran out Prince Thomas last summer. I found a cask of whiskey while I was exploring down here. Had it appraised by a purser down in the Port and he said it was very old, and quite good, so we decided to call it ‘Prince Thomas Reserve’ and said it was 100 years old. The labels were long rotten, so no hints about what it might have been originally. I only found one other that wasn’t spoiled, but we went through the last of it sometime last summer.”

“So what have we been serving if we ran out?”

“It’s Chivas. We used to have an old bottle of Chivas on the top shelf too, but they sailors thought the Prince Thomas was better, so I started refilling the bottles with Chivas. That’s why we ran out so fast. They were buying it by the bottle to take with them.”

Milo thought the story wasn’t adding up. “Where did you get the Chivas? That’s not on our order list.”

“You can find all kinds of things down here. The first cask must have been someone’s wine cellar, that was up through there.” Malus gestured into the darkness. “In Clockhaven, the streets did not change much. They just built on what they had and went higher and sealed off the lower floors. Some of the basements stayed dry, but most flooded.”

Milo looked towards where Malus was gesturing but saw nothing but blackness. “Why Thomas? Why not one of the archons?” 

“Prince Thomas of Dunsany.” 

“Thomas of… wait, that Dunsany? That’s just a story.”

Malus snickered. “If you say so. Say it again and that makes three.”

“I don’t believe it.”

“Only one way to find out. Say it! There’s a whole colony of them down here… wait… listen!”

Milo watched Malus lift his oar and go still.

“Did you hear that?”

Milo strained and thought he heard something in the distance, like someone beating a rhythm on a pipe. 

“Yes, I think I did.” A shiver went up Milo’s spine. “What’s out there?”

“It’s them. Up that way.” Malus pointed into the darkness again.

“How can you even see anything down here?”

“You can’t see the stairs? You need to let your eyes adjust more.”

“You’re messing with me. Jerk.”

Malus pushed down with his oar and set the raft  forward again.

“Maybe. Start pushing.”

Milo found the other oar and started against the walls to keep the raft moving. Every sound they made sounded louder than it should. He was beyond uncomfortable, but he knew better than to show it. “How much further is it?

“There’s the dock, just ahead. We have to walk from there.”

The landing approached like a ghost into the glow of their lanterns, and the raft thudded softly along the edge. Malus jumped off and lashed it to a post.

“Come on. Get your pack back on.”

Milo obeyed, more out of fear than any sense of obligation at this point. “What now?” he asked.

“Now you get the bolt cutters and the rope from out of the crate and follow me.”

Milo lifted his lantern and looked into the crate. He took the bolt cutters and a coil of rope, and saw the rest was filled with empty glass carboys. Malus took the second coil of rope and the pry bar and set off. Milo followed, his pack swaying from side to side, which made the bottles within rattle noisily.

“You are going to need to stop making so much noise. Walk more quietly.”

Milo threw down the rope and bolt cutters started adjusting the straps on his pack.

“Just how am I supposed to do that, you gigantic pile of worm casings? You’re the one who packed it. You carry it!”

Malus sneered in the darkness.

“That’s the best you can do? Come on Milo, dazzle me with your intellect. Tell me how you don’t need this kind of trouble and you can go find a job anywhere. Tell me how there are no monsters under the city. I don’t care. Come with me or not, but decide right now because I don’t have time to babysit. And we need both the packs or it will take twice as long.”

He was right, at least on the job account, and Milo knew it, which made him even angrier. This was a ridiculous and terrifying errand, and he couldn’t believe Junie required it of him. He decided to talk to her about it when she happened to wander in next from her job across town, which in itself made no sense. How was he to know everyone he would work with was insane? I should have planned this better, he thought to himself. And yet there was something compelling about all of it. Curiosity.

“Fine, Brother Malus. Lead the way.”

Malus turned without a word and continued down the passage, then turned and went up another. This continued for a number of minutes until Milo realized there was no way he could make it back to the raft on his own. He half expected to meet a minotaur just around the next corner.

“Stop,” Malus said abruptly. “This is it. Give me the bolt cutters. Hurry. And hold this up.” He thrust the lantern in Milo’s direction.

The weak light of the lantern illuminated a chained gate, which Malus proceeded to snip with relative ease. He caught the chain before it hit the floor, and set it down as quietly as he could. The gate gave a melancholy creak as it opened, admitting them to a larger room.

“There are three doors,” Malus said. “Take the lantern and go find the one on the right.”

Milo did as he was told, and then watched as Malus wrapped the rope in a knot around the doorknob. He then walked across the room and into the shadows.

“Now open the door slightly, and hold it,” he whispered. “And in the name of the Builder, be quiet.”

As he held the door ajar, it was clear that Malus had tied the rope to something across the room, because he re-emerged from the shadows and the door hung slightly open.

“It will lock behind us if we don’t leave it open,” he explained. Milo was moderately impressed. Malus had obviously done this many times. 

Malus grinned, which, in the light of the lantern, made him look positively evil. “One of the things I found down here was a way into Brunel Hall’s cellars.”

Milo grinned back at Malus, as the adventure became clear. Empty bottles in their packs, to relay something to the empty bottles in the crate on the raft. This was more like it. It was like playing pirates, but for real. “We’re going to steal Victor’s Chivas!”

“You ready?” Malus whispered.

“Ready,” Milo whispered back.

Malus leaned closer. “Dunsany.”

Milo’s eyebrows came together, confused. Then he screamed.

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  1. Martin Malus Martin Malus March 24, 2020

    Malus, expecting his reaction, grabbed Milo and clamped one hand down over Milo’s mouth, The boy shifted from screaming to thrashing frantically to get free. Before them stood a tall, thin, man, his skin so pale that he stood out against the darkness like a wraith. He towered over Malus and Milo both, but made no threatening motions. He looked at Malus.

    The ghoul grabbed Milo’s hair and pressed his own face into it. Milo squeezed his eyes shut, while the ghoul took a deep breath.

    “Brother” the ghoul said at last. “But only a little brother. Not as much as you.”

    Malus snickered nervously. “Quit messing with him, Toby.” He eased his grip on Milo. “You’re going to calm down now,” Malus said into Milo’s ear. “I’m going to let you go and you’re not going to scream any more.”

    Milo slowly stopped thrashing, and as soon as his breathing slowed, Malus dropped his hand from the boy’s mouth. Milo pointed at the creature standing before him.

    “You’re… you’re a morlock… ” Milo stammered.

    Milo’s eyes were wide with terror as the Squire leaned close and whispered, “I told you it was true. Just calm down. Now. You’re safe.” He couldn’t help but qualify his statement though to ensure Milo’s ongoing uncertainty, and added, “as long as I’m here.”

    The tall, ghostly white man glanced at Malus briefly and then back at Milo. He tilted his head and held his hand out.

    ‘Milo, Tobias. Tobias, Milo,” Malus said quickly by way of introduction. “He’s a friend.”

    “What!?”

    “You are the new bartender upstairs,” Tobias stated. His voice was clear and calm, much to Milo’s surprise. “Milo. I know of you.”

    “You told him about me?”

    Milo glanced at Malus and then back at Tobias, whose hand was still hanging before him, awaiting his handshake. Emerson had warned him about Malus’ weird friends, but he thought he was joking, or, at worst, a gang of petty criminals. But this… How deep did this rabbit hole go? Cautiously, he extended his hand, which Tobias grasped firmly. His skin was cool and clammy, and it sent a chill up Milo’s spine. The boy grimaced and Tobias smiled as he released his hand.

    “I told him you were coming, back at the catacombs” said Malus.

    “The pipes!” Milo exclaimed, recalling how Malus had stopped to hammer on them.

    “Shall we be brothers?” said Tobias. The ghoul waited for a response from Milo, then, receiving none, took a step away and faced the gate which the boys had tied open. “I thirst. It has been too long since we have visited the cellars and liberated the daughters of the vine.”

    “He means Victor’s wine.” Malus turned to Tobias. “Let’s get going. If we’re lucky and he stays quiet, we might be able to get two runs. Then we can break for lunch before heading back.”

    “Lunch?” said Milo nervously. He eyed Tobias, who seemed to be sizing him up for a meal.

    Malus sneered. “Why do you think I packed lunch for three?”

    They slinked past the gate and through the passageway, and in one blinding moment, they were in a room flooded with gas light. Milo squinted and groaned, then caught his breath again as he got a look at Tobias in better light. How could Malus call this thing a friend? He saw Malus take his own dark glasses from out of his waistcoat and hand them to Tobias, who was covering his eyes with one hand.

    “Shut UP,” Malus whispered. “If they find us here, the Gangplank is done. Got it? No job for you, no job for me. We’re going to get into Victor’s wine cellar, tap the cask, and get back out before anyone sees or hears us, and no one will be able to prove anything.”

    Milo took one last long look at Tobais, then took a long breath to calm himself. It wasn’t supposed to go like this. But what options did he have? No time like the present to begin his life of crime.

    “Alright. I’m good. Let’s go.”

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