People stared. Tall men in dark green, extremely outdated clothing with long cloaks, high boots and confident swaggers were not by any means common.
The dull grey light of morning illuminated the dismal city and Falcolm’s desperation to find his wife was calmed enough for his heart to be touched with horror and sorrow at what he saw around him. Only hours ago, this city had been a young, bright and beautiful place full of hope and expectation and laughter. Now it was ancient, decaying and decrepit, like an old woman who sits too long indoors doing nothing but letting her skin become grey and wrinkled and her smile to become an etched frown. Men and woman went about the business of life with their wings of possibility securely folded on their backs and their heads down. Children were afraid of their own shadows and threw stones at skittish street cats. Boats that bumped each other in the murky waters brought angry shouts and rude words.
This was no longer the city that Falcolm knew and loved. This was but a broken reflection of that once great place. Broken like his love was broken.
It took Falcolm a while to notice how unkind the stares were. He was used to stares. He had been quite a famous figure in this city. But the stares he was receiving now were dark, unfriendly and suspicious. It finally sunk into his mind that these people were very different then him. They walked differently, dressed differently, and even spoke differently. He could still understand them, but their accent was strange and their vocabulary low. Over a couple of blocks, Falcolm adjusted himself to fit in. He changed his swagger to a short-paced shuffle and bent his shoulders and lowered his head. He would have to find some new clothes.
What Falcolm didn’t notice though, was non descript man who stared at him more than once from a variety of different vantage points as Falcolm moved through the city.
A few minutes walking in this new, cramped way confirmed the loathing Falcolm was beginning to feel for this city that was his own, and yet so very different.
The layout of the city was similar, but changed. He would recognized a street for a while, then suddenly walk into a dead end. He was very surprised at one point to find the grand arched bridge that had spanned a wide section of the river Dawn to be completely gone. He had been there as a child when the final stone for the bridge had been laid. It has seemed so strong, magnificent and permanent. But now, in this dark future it was gone without trace or memory.
As he walked, hunger began to present it’s empty words to his stomach and he had just decided to do something about it when he heard a shout farther along the busy road he was on.
“Lost and Found!” cried the male voice ahead. “We will help you find anything! Object, person, place, if you have lost it we can find it!”
Strange, thought Falcolm, that the very thing he needed most he would find so easily. Help. And he wondered as he approached the skinny, ugly little man who was advertising who was more truly lost; himself, or his wife.
Falcolm walked purposely up to the little man, and looking down at him said, “I’ve lost something. How much do you charge?”
“Huh?” said the man, his unintelligent eyes staring up at Falcolm with surprise. Immediately Falcolm regretted asking for help. This man was clearly a fool?
“I will try elsewhere,” he said turning away.
“Hey! Wait!” said a sharp voice from inside the stand that the little man stood in front of. Falcolm paused. “Our charges vary depending on the object in question and the time taken to find it. Milo, Seed-Brain, bring him in!”
Milo nodded and said, “Come in sir, come in! We can find all manner of things for you for a small fee.”
Somewhat reluctantly, Falcolm entered the rickety little wooden structure. He was prepared to walk back out again in a moment. Inside was crowded with all sorts of random things and a mess in papers and nick-knacks. There was a small cot and a table with some chairs that looked like they might collapse if sat on. A large, intelligent looking owl sat by the only window, his large eyes staring unblinkingly at Falcolm. Half the room, however, was partitioned off with a filthy, patched once-red curtain. The voice of the one in charge was issuing from behind the curtain.
“Please, have a seat,” said the voice, and Milo gestured to one of the stools. Falcolm remained standing.
“What is that you are looking for, good sir?”
“A piece of carved stone.”
“Carved stone, eh? Hmm, you shall have to be more specific than that if you want me to find it.”
“And you shall have to be more convincing of your competence if you want me to share more.”
“We give all customers the guarantee that we will put our full efforts into finding what they seek until we find it, or until up to five years has passed at which point it is likely that what they seek does not exist. Of course, pay must continue during the search to fund the effort. Also,” the voice began, but Falcolm interrupted.
“Why are you hiding behind the curtain?”
“Our search efforts can only be effective if the strictest anonymity is retained.”
“Why?” Falcolm took a step towards the curtain, and the Milo somewhat frantically stood before him, trying to shoo him back.
“At times one needs to be unknown to find things hidden.”
“I want to see who I’m hiring.”
“I’m afraid that is not possible. Please, I am experienced in the area of retrieval, take my word for the necessity of this…” the stranger stopped speaking because his curtain had been torn aside and a tall man in dirty deep greens with a dangerous sword at his side and look in his eyes was standing staring down at him.
What Falcolm saw was not even possible to expect. In the partitioned part of the room, amid piles of junk was a large basin filled with water. And in the basin was the child sized figure of a small man who had, instead of legs, a scaly, fish like tail. The creature’s skin was grey with an almost silver shine and the features of his face were wide and flat and somehow fishlike. His jaw bone and forehead proceeded farther back than on people and met his neck in sharp edges and ridges that reminded Falcolm of the gills on a fish. His eyes were fish like too, large, brown and watery with only the thinnest rim of glimmering white around them.
“You are a merman,” observed Falcolm. And when he said that a memory of his wife’s lovely voice flitted through his mind; you are eloquent and intelligent, yet you never fail to state the obvious. The words were followed by her lovely laugh. The merman spoke, ending the memory.
“You know what one is, I’m impressed. Most people of the world has forgotten that we exist.”
“I can understand why you sell your skill as a finder of lost things.” Falcolm ignored the fishy-man’s comment. “You must be able to thoroughly search the waters of this city. But how do you find something if it is not in the water?”
“We do advertise as a group. Milo has a brain the size of a glass bead, but he can shout, and Mayflower is very good at finding things.”
“The owl.” At the little creature’s words the huge grey and brown owl that had been sitting by the window, flew in through the open curtain and settled herself with a clatter on a mound of objects. “Now,” said the fish man, “what are you looking for exactly?”
“The stone bust of a woman.” Falcolm gestured with his hands to indicate the approximant side.”
“And when did you loose it?”
“I’m not sure. Sometime in the last one thousand years.”
Mindie had never been a lucky person. Troubles had haunted her all her life and when thing could go wrong, they always did. And sometimes, like the situations that had brought her to this dank cell, they went really wrong. So when the old man who brought her breakfast the next morning, (or what she assumed to be morning), left the room without sliding the bolts into place, she didn’t believe it for a whole half hour. Surely she had just imagined that she hadn’t heard the bolts slide. But no. As she sat there in the darkness she became more and more convinced that by some strange and unexpected stroke of luck, the door had been left unlocked.
Now all she had to do was free herself from the metal shackle that circled her ankle and chained her to the slate stone wall. It was not very tight to her leg but it was tight enough that she couldn’t easily wiggle her foot out. But she had to try—had to try to escape. Maybe she could warn Rend of the trap he was walking into. The trap she had set. The thought sent her mentally skidding into self loathing and guilt. But she still had to try.
So she pulled and twisted her foot in the shackle. Her ankle wouldn’t go through. She kept pulling till the pain was overwhelming and she collapsed back, breathing heavily. She tried not to look at her ankle, which was beginning to bleed badly. But she must escape. So again she pulled and twisted and twisted and pulled. At last, after some time her foot slipped free with a nasty cracking noise and a lot of pain.
She limped to the door, and opened it a crack. She became very dizzy from pain and nearly passed out.
Mindie wandered the dark catacombs for a long while. Cold, limping, and forced to stop now and then to remain conscious she began to wonder if leaving the cell had been a good idea. She kept running into dead ends where the catacombs were filled up with still, stinking water. She became very thirsty, but knew she could not drink that water. All the water of this city was deadly to drink. It had to be drawn up river and brought into the city in large barrels. At last she found steps leading upward and emerged into the dull grey lighting of a side street. She pushed her dark messy hair out of her eyes and glanced down at her broken foot. She immediately regretted the second move as a wave of nauseas and pain sent shivers through her body.
She looked back up quickly and tried to figure out where she was. She didn’t recognize this street, but knew that if she wandered around a bit, she would find her locations. But what good would that do? She could not, as she longed to do, go back to her apartments. That would just make her easy for Nichademus to find. It would only be worse if she was found again and she knew she would die a very painful death if she was re-captured. And she would likely not be able to keep the information they wanted from them again. She shivered and began to walk. First things first. She needed to find Rend and warn him. But what if he hadn’t even come to the city? Hadn’t fallen for the bait? Maybe Rend would look after her, as he had in the past. But no, what was she thinking? She had betrayed him!
Tears smeared her vision as she stumbled through the city. After a little while, she found out where she was in this cursed city. But that did nothing to help her figure out where Rend might be.
She suddenly got the impression that someone was watching her. She could see no one though, so she hurried on. She turned the corner to find a man standing, leaning against the side of a building at the end of the empty street. She looked the other direction. Another man stood in the shadows at that end. Fear clutched at her chest. She turned and went back the way she had come. She looked over her shoulder as she entered the street before and saw that that one of the men was following her.