The Boatman and The Artifact - Part 1Mature

The jeep rolled down a main street, passing shops and restaurants and the millions of sheep that frequented these places. They flooded the sidewalks like an infestation of cockroaches, skittering about, oblivious to the existence of anything outside their immediate control. They drove in the streets, complaining about traffic with inappropriate gestures and their hands depressed on the horn; all in a hurry to get nowhere.

Blue watched them through the passenger window. “Sometimes I wonder if these people are even real.”

Dwim cocked an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

“Look at them. They’re just zombies, going here and there like ants. Do they even know what they’re doing?”

“Do we?” Tantrum added.

“We’re different.” Blue said, looking over his shoulder to the back seat. “We matter. We do something and the city feels it. We step and it shakes. We’re not like these people. They’re… filler.”

Dwim‘s facial expression told of disagreement. “They’re the grease in the cogs Blue.”

Blue frowned. “So what are we? The cogs?”

Dwim thought for a second. “No, we’re the engine that powers it all.”

Grey laughed. “You could be the engine all you want. Personally, I’m the driver.”

Tantrum laughed. “I like the way you think.”

“We’re here.” Grey said, turning off the main street to coast down a long hill that ended in a parking lot. He stopped the jeep near the boardwalk of the quay.

The quay was a none hostility zone, as enforced by the boatman himself. The boatman ferried the dead back to Syn city from what was known as the ‘other side’ or ‘the void’. He was as powerful a being as any, and would punish anyone who caused trouble in his domain.

The four got out of the vehicle and walked across a small patch of dying grass to the wooden boardwalk. The water shimmered with the stain of fuel and pollution, it stank of rot. There was a perpetual fog over the water that crept up onto the shore. On some days it invaded inland all the way into the center of town. Today it hung only over the water, like a silken sheet as if to mirror the overcast sky above.

Blue turned around before they got any further. “Remember, only I do the talking.”

“Late as usual.” Said the boatman in a thick Gaelic accent. He was a bearded but otherwise nondescript man standing at the edge of the quay in front of a rusted old tug.

“I could have been here an hour ago and you’d have said the same thing.” Blue said, walking up to the man.

“Probably. In any case, I’ve got a deal to propose.”

“No deal.” Blue said, before he could go on. “We’ve paid your fee, that’s that. We want our men.”

“Look you little piss, I call the shots, and if you want it otherwise then you could get in the water and swim.”

Blue looked out over the water, the horizon masked in a shroud of mist. He knew swimming was not an option, the water was deadly, he’d just be giving more business to the boatman. “What do you want.”

“That’s more like it!” said the boatman, with a ring of enthusiasm. “Alright, here’s the deal. There’s an artifact in a - ”

“Woaw.” Blue put his hands up. “I’ve only got four guys, we’re not going after an artifact.”

“Well then you’re not getting your men.”

“You know how those things are.”

“Yes, and that’s why I want it.”

Blue had to think. Artifacts where purported to be shards of the city herself. Anyone who earned a relic had met her, the manifestation of the city; a being said to be the source of all power within Syn City. A forsaken soul, the first to be trapped and give form to the void that existed before the city sprang roots and grew. She was the bringer of relics, and on extremely rare occasions she even intervened in conflicts or proceedings. No one knew why she was so illusive, or why she could not exist indefinitely in physical form. Some believed that if the Artifacts were all brought together, she could be resurrected, and that everyone trapped in Syn City could finally be released. For this reason the Artifacts were highly sought after, and often religious fanatics cultivated followings around them. Going after one was often a difficult task as the current owners were never in agreement with being relieved of the object. They flowed with power, and the fabric of reality around them became thin. Strange things happened in places where an artifact was present. Dark creatures that should only exist in nightmares sometimes crept through the cracks to torment or seduce anyone in reach. No matter the case, Blue had to make a decision. “Alright, give me the details.” He said, knowing there was not much in the way of other options.

“Great. Here’s the deal. The warehouse is only a few blocks away, it should be relatively unguarded. You’ll find the artifact somewhere in there, it’s at the far side of a dead end street. Carnifex, heard of it?”

“No, but I’m sure we can find it.”

“GPS” Grey said, jokingly.

Blue glared at him.

“What? It’s funny.”

Blue returned his gaze to the boatman. “We’ll be back. You’d better have our men.”

“Or what? You prissy little shit, watch your mouth or you’ll be taking a ride on my boat yourself.”

Blue ignored him as they walked off.

“That went swell.” Said Dwim.

Blue shook his head. “I don’t want to hear it. Just get in the jeep.”

Twenty minutes later they were standing in front of the warehouse. The building was large, it was on the waterfront and from what they could tell it was once a dry dock. The whole structure was steel, lined with red rust wherever water travelled from the roof to the ground. It looked as if it was stained with blood. The entire front of the warehouse was a massive door, although a man sized door could be seen on the bottom right.

“Alright, this is it.” Grey said, making his way past everyone else. “Doesn’t seem so bad.”

Dwim shook his head. “I can feel it.”

Tantrum furrowed his brow. “Same, this isn’t going to be easy.”

Grey looked back. “You’re joking right? ‘I can feel it.’” He said, mocking them. “All you feel is your nuts sucking back into your gut ‘cause you’re afraid of the boogeyman. Let’s get this show on the road.” Grey walked to the door, twisted the handle and pushed but it wouldn’t budge. “Alright.” He said, and drew his revolver. He fired a single shot into each hinge and pushed again. Not a smidgeon of movement.

“Stand back Grey, the door is warded by magic. It will take some time but I can break it open.” Dwim put his hands before him with his palms facing each other and a point of light appeared. He closed his eyes and grunted as he focused. Visible light bent around him as the power of his spell strengthened, it looked as though he was standing in waves of heat.

Grey shook his head. “You’ve got to be kidding me. I’ll be right back.” He said, and walked past them in the direction they came.

Dwim’s spell was picking up small rocks and other debris as it continued to gain strength. “Just a little longer.” He said as the light between his palms shone like a small sun. Energy rippled through the air, making the floating debris jump and shudder. “Almost there.”

An explosion shook the area and a fireball rose from the door.

Dwim’s eyes shot open and his spell vanished, a shockwave of power bursting outward as his concentration wavered. “What the hell?” He turned to his left to see Grey standing with a grenade launcher in hand.

“What?” He said, smoke bellowed from the chamber as he cracked it open.

Dwim shouted. “What the hell are you doing?”

Grey shrugged. “I don’t know, but it seems to be a whole lot more effective than whatever it is you were doing.”

“Do you have any idea how much energy you just wasted? I won’t be able to do anything that powerful for at least a half hour.”

“Sucks to be you.” He said, reloading the launcher with another grenade.

“You can’t just go around - ” Dwim’s sentence was cut short as he turned to shield his face from the concussion that belched from the grenade launchers muzzle as Grey fired his second round. “You’re crazy.”

“Nope… but I am a maniac.” Grey said matter-of-factly, turning and walking back to the jeep. The warehouse door was nowhere to be seen near the gaping maw that appeared after the dust settled.

Blue shook his head. “Grey, was that really necessary?”

“I told you it’d come in handy.” He said, walking past him.

The End

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