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Chapter 9 - Carnelia

The flicker of dying orbal lamps mounted at equidistant lengths along the sewer walls sent thin streaks of light across the surface of the rippling flow of filthy sewage. Passing in front of these one by one, Sister Carnelia sped down the stone sidewalk as the sound of her body cutting through the racing tunnel winds trailed out behind her. Panting and out of breath, I continued to move my feet toward the darkness which lay before me as I chased after Sister Carnelia's flickering shadow.

Wayworn, yet without a moment of repose, we headed unrelentingly with our sights set on the cathedral of the Septian Church. We moved swiftly across the moss-covered stone pavement, the clacking of our heels echoing in the dimly lit underground.

Above ground, the walking distance on the city roads from the railway station to the cathedral was about three blocks. If we made our way up through the drainage ditch just beyond the sluice gate, we would find ourselves in the public square outside the massive sanctuary.

Up ahead, the light of another orbal lamp came into view. Turning her head in my direction and without a word, Sister Carnelia extended her right hand outward in a wide motion indicating that we would be turning that way at the next corner. Then, as if preparing for something she rolled both shoulders in a grinding motion and relieved the last of her tension with a pop of the neck. It seemed to me as though she knew all too well what was lurking within the tenebrous conduit ahead.

Under the unsteady and sporadic coruscation of light, the body of Sister Carnelia surged around the corner and disappeared from view. One, two, three went the walloping echoes, followed by the sound of something being rolled into the channel of filthy sludge. As I turned the corner, the first things which leapt into my sight were the contorted figures of two men on the ground whom I barely missed treading on. Sister Carnelia, who was by this time several steps ahead, continued to run at her usual pace as if nothing had happened during the preceding seconds.

'It's Carnelia!' came an angry (but noticeably wavering) voice from behind.

I glanced to my rear to locate its source, and there I found a man who had dragged himself from the fecal-filled liquid, now lying next to his dead comrades, yelling with his dying breath as blood leaked out of his open mouth.

'Carnelia, she's down here!' he managed to croak before falling silent and still. Sister Carnelia paid no attention nor made any effort to look back. I turned my face forward and followed her example.

The walls of the conduit leading directly to the sluice gate squared out into an ominous mouth of darkness, seemingly waiting for its next unsuspecting meal. Sister Carnelia gradually slowed her pace to match mine as I had by this time become completely exhausted and out of breath.

'It looks like these guys are dead serious about getting their hands on that item this time,' she said as she focused her eyes on the darkness before us.

'So were those men old friends of yours or something?' I inquired.

Sister Carnelia turned to face me with her darkened scarlet eyes. 'Is that what you heard from those bracers the other day?' she asked. I nodded my head and questioned her no further. With head slightly turned down I forced myself onward, eyes fixed on tips of my boots.

Unexpectedly, Sister Carnelia opened her mouth and said, 'Do you remember that woman you had a run-in with back at the inn?' I nodded slightly.

'The whole reason I gave up my life as a mercenary is because I didn't want to meet a tragic end like that,' she continued. 'A life of no meaning. Forgotten by all...'

I looked up at Sister Carnelia, and seeing a slight show of emotion in the side of her face, heard her repeat the same line of words a few times more before finishing her thought.

'If I'm going to cash in my life's chips, then I think it's best that I fight for something worth fighting for. At least that way, I'd be able to leave a legacy of my existence behind.'

Taking in her words, I ran steadily beside her as I felt a sense of nondescript apprehension slowly begin to creep over me. During the short intervals between breaths, it suddenly seemed as if I were hearing the faint sound of sloshing water from behind which caused me to prick up my ears and turn my head in its direction.

'So you noticed it too, huh, Toby?' Sister Carnelia slowed her step until finally coming to a complete stop. 'They've blockaded us from behind, so there's no turning back now,' she said, the direness of our situation heavy in her voice.

We had arrived at an intersection where the conduit we were in and another crossed paths and just beyond the wide, fetid flow of sewage water before us, I could see the dimly lit sluice gate. I placed my back against the damp bricks of the nearest wall and for a moment, tried to catch my breath.

'They're probably lying in wait for us,' Sister Carnelia assessed stolidly after glaring across the flowing sewage of the merged channels and then turning her head to the rear and narrowing her eyes again. 'And, unfortunately this time, we won't be able to circumvent them.'

With a sound of composure revealing her utmost resolve, Sister Carnelia took in a few deep breaths. I laid hand on my orbment, gripping it in the palm of my sweaty hand, and then wrapped the strap of my bag securely around my opposite wrist. And as always, Sister Carnelia checked her boots before standing upright. Then, taking a few steps back and holding my breath, I raced forward and darted into the stygian flow of waste.

第9回 カーネリア