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The Short Cut

(Continued from The Order)

If Milo was surprised when the Squire roused him before dawn, he was even more surprised to find him in the kitchen packing three satchels with sandwiches, dry sausages, beer, and whatever other edibles on hand which were the right size to fit. By the door were two loaded pack frames, and several hand lanterns. After a quick breakfast coffee and pastries, they loaded up. The packs were light, Milo heard a faint clinking from within his as he shifted it into place.

“Where are we going?” asked Milo. 

“You’ll see.” Malus lit two lanterns and handed him one, then headed out the front door of the Gangplank, turned right and unlocked the storeroom at the end of the alley. Malus headed without pause to the rusted iron gate at the back of the room, moved a few crates, then slipped off his pack to make himself small enough to slip through the bars of the gate. He slid his pack, lantern, and two lunch satchels through the bars,then reloaded himself. “C’mon. Through here.”

Milo followed, though not quick and practiced as Malus was, then lifted his lantern to look to see where they were. He screamed and staggered backwards as a grinning skeleton appeared in his pool of light. Malus caught him by his pack straps before he fell backwards. 

“Watch out. You’ll break the bottles before we even get there.”

“Are you sure we’re allowed to do this?”

Malus sneered and shook his head as he walked, holding the lantern high enough to light the skeletal faces of the many corpses lining the passageway.

“Of course we’re allowed to do this,” he said. “We’re encouraged to do it. We have to do it. This is part of your job, so pay attention.” Without hesitation, Malus picked something up from the floor then tapped out a quick staccato on an overhead pipe, sending echoes through the chamber and beyond. 

Milo cringed at the noise. “But what if we got caught?”

Malus stopped tapping on the pipe and turned around to face Milo.

“It is part of the errand to take the short cut through the catacombs to get to where the whiskey is. It is not the part of this errand to freak out about. Shut up and follow me.”

Malus turned where a row of coffins were stacked upright against the old stone wall. He opened one and gestured for Milo to step through. “This goes down to water level. Keep your light in front of you. It’s slippery.”

Milo swallowed hard, then ducked through the coffin as instructed, and found himself in what felt like a small wardrobe. He found the stairs and started down so Malus would have room to squeeze through the passage also, keeping one hand against the wall and one the other raised to light the steps ahead of him.

The sewers had been rerouted more than once to keep them from draining into the harbor, but when it came to bootlegging, they were still perfect. Milo followed the Squire through a passage and beneath an arch low enough that they each had to crouch slightly to get to the other side. From the shadows a small dock emerged as the lantern illuminated their way, and then a small raft bobbing alongside.

“You can get down here from the back of the bakery too.”

“You said it was a short cut!”

“It is a short cut if you consider how long it would have taken us to move what was stacked on top of the trap door at the back of the bakery. I don’t want Emerson getting down here and messing things up. Let’s grab that crate and put it on the raft, then we can get moving.”

“I thought you would be different now, but you haven’t changed a bit since school. You’re still a prick,” said Milo.

“Shut up and help me with the crate. You never know who might be down here with us.”

Milo was sure that the Squire was just trying to scare him again, but did as he was instructed, and in no time at all they were underway, Malus expertly guiding the raft through the dark corridors. The lantern cast shadows in all directions, dancing against the moldering stone walls, scurrying around passageways that disappeared into blackness. Milo shivered.

“It’s really creepy down here, isn’t it?” he asked Malus.

Although Milo couldn’t see it, he could hear the smirk in Martin’s voice. “You haven’t seen anything yet.”

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