Blood on Bronze (Blood on Bronze Book 1)

BOOK: Blood on Bronze (Blood on Bronze Book 1)
4.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


Book One




Book One

By Anthony


First Edition

Published by
Anthony Gillis

Copyright © 2012
Anthony Gillis




publication April 10, 2012

Revisions and
new cover art December 8, 2012


Find more books
by the author at






The Tale of Terror in the Night



Arjun woke to
the sound of the doors being smashed in, and of Keda’s screams.

He grabbed the
bronze sword at his bedside, his father’s work and his eighteenth birthday
gift, and ran for the cloth door of his room. The rich geometric patterns of
his sleeping robe gleamed in the dull light of the hallway lamp. The inlayed
tile of the floor was cool in the night air against his bare feet as he ran.
There was no time to change into something more practical, no time to think. He
hoped there was still time to act.

There were loud
noises coming from below, angry voices of men and sounds of struggle. His
father was speaking in a strong voice, but calm as was his way. Keda’s screams
turned to angry shrieks, and he heard a sound like a pot smashing against something
as a harsh male voice roared in anger and pain.

Robbers? If so,
they must be many and bold to strike at the house of Ashur dra Artashad!

The steps were
just ahead now. He leapt down them two or three at a time. The scene that met
his eyes was not what he’d expected. Arjun came to a sudden, skittering stop at
the base of the stairs, and all eyes turned momentarily to him.

There was the
tall form of his father, still in daytime kilt and cloak, with sword drawn, the
black plaits of his beard glinting with bronze rings in the flickering light,
and bands of bronze on his powerful arms. There too was Naram-Enki, the night
guard, but he was sprawled against the urn by the smashed front door, blood
pouring from wounds at his neck above his bronze breastplate, and his waist
below. Good loyal old Eb-Sim stood by Arjun’s father, sword drawn and facing
the foe. Off to a side stood Keda, wizened and thin, her gray hair flying
loose. Her arms were raised, a pot in her hands. From the lower hallway came
Madu the day guard in only his kilt, but with a bronze axe ready.

But they who had
entered the house were not robbers!

City guardsmen,
the sun and moons of Zakran carved on the bronze plates at their chests and on
their round shields, stood in the hall with swords drawn! One of their number
was staggering back toward the door, stumbling over broken potsherds, wiping
clay dust and a trickle of blood from his face. Another lay on the ground near
Naram-Enki in a growing pool of blood. They were led by a captain with gold armbands
and a gold-fringed kilt. With them was a high ranking scribe in purple cloth,
and also was a figure he knew…

Bal-Shim! No
close friend perhaps, but still a bronze maker and brother of the order of
Zamisphar of the Flame. What was HE doing here? Bal-Shim’s heavy face looked
surprised, but then turned to a snarl. The heavy plaits of his beard moved as
if he was going to speak.

His father was
faster, “My son, I command you, remember now the tale of Ur-Namash!”

Arjun’s blood
ran cold at the signal they had long prearranged. He wanted more than life
itself to stay and stand by his father. But they were of the old families - his
father had commanded and he must obey. He ran fast back up the stairs. There
was yelling behind him.

A deep voice,
likely the captain’s, growled, “Get back here boy! Surrender, and no harm will
come to you!”

He ran on.

Arjun could hear
sounds as the guards must be trying to force their way past his father and the
servants. There were more yells and noises of fighting. He raced to the small
shrine of Zamisphar at the far end of the hall, a bowl shaped like a hand with
a small flame burning.  He placed the amulet at his neck to the bronze disc at
its base, and waited. There was a faint glow of magic, and the shrine pulled
aside revealing the hidden alcove behind it. Sweat ran down his forehead and
collected in the loose curls of his black hair as awful thoughts raced through
his mind. Inside the alcove, all was it should be. The painted leather bags
were there on the little wooden hatch. He hesitated for a brief moment. He knew
what father would want him to do, but could he? Could he really leave him now?

There was an
agonized scream behind him, the voice gurgling with something liquid, and a
large crash. He heard his father’s voice yell amidst the din, and the clash of
metal. Keda’s voice shrieked in fury, and then suddenly went silent. Arjun
clenched the sword and considered turning back to help.

His father’s
voice appeared in his mind, in memory. There was no ambiguity in what he’d commanded.
Arjun slung both bags over his shoulder and hoped that his father could rejoin
him somewhere, somehow.  He pulled up the little panel of floor, started down
the ladder in the shaft, and pulled both the shrine and the trap door closed
behind him.

Everything went

Idiot! He cursed
himself, and remembered he’d brought no light. The lamp of the shrine was there
for that very purpose. No time now. His father had made him practice this many
times. Fearfully more dangerous as it was in the darkness, he could do this,
and did. He climbed down the ladder as quickly as he dared, expecting at any
moment to see the light appear above him, and with it the end of any escape.

He passed the
level of the first floor, and then that of the cellars. He would soon reach
that of the vaults, and was tempted to use the second secret door down there to
get out, grab a lamp, and perhaps try to equip himself a little better. But no,
the guards might come while he delayed. He steeled his mind, and accepted that
he would not stop until he reached the bottom, the level of the old sewers, and
even there his journey would but begin. As he descended, he could feel moisture
growing in the air, the copper rungs of the ladder felt slick in his hands and
slippery under his feet, but he did not stop.

His mind did not
stop either. Why had this happened?

Arjun’s father
was not the sort to make enemies, so far as he knew; but a rich man might have
them nonetheless. Zakran, city of a thousand thousands, was the crossroads of
the world and a dangerous place. All the good and all the evil that men and the
other thinking folk could do made its way there one way or another.

His father had
made certain, that should that evil come to them, they knew a way out. Yet
Arjun had never imagined it taking such a form. The hidden shaft had been built
with the house itself centuries ago, but must have been long forgotten. When
his father and grandfather had bought the place, it had been bricked up and
plastered over. They’d found it only by noticing that in that spot, the
interior and exterior walls of the great house didn’t line up as they ought.

Arjun had been
born in the house and grown up there. His father had made certain he’d learned
the way down the shaft and through the sewers, should it ever be needed. Arjun
himself had thought it unlikely that, short of an invasion by the Empire of
Sarsa, anyone would dare attack them in their own house. And if such an
invasion came, where in the end would they hide from the Great King’s armies?

But something
else had happened. Someone with the power to send city guardsmen had sent them
to arrest or kill his father. To strike at a man of his father’s influence
could mean it was no mere captain, or even one of the watch commanders. It
could only mean someone on the council of the city. But why?

Arjun’s thoughts
were interrupted as his bare feet hit the cold, slick stone of the bottom.

He turned around
in the pitch darkness and felt the bronze door, felt its etched designs, traced
the incantations and the wards engraved in the metal. But he was bound to those
wards and safe. His grandfather had paid a lot of money to old Enlil iru Lagesh
for the enchantments, and the legendary but now long-dead magus had done his
work well. Arjun found the seal and pressed his amulet against it. He took
momentary comfort in the brief flash of faint magical light.

The door opened,
more noisily than he’d remembered it. But then when he’d last done so, it had
been daytime, he’d had a lamp, and he hadn’t been in fear for his life.

On the other
side, the door was carefully disguised to appear as any other patch of the
worked stone of the sewer walls, with a faint illusion to hide crevices around
the edges from even careful inspection. Right now however, Arjun couldn’t see
anything. Terrible as the complete darkness was, any sign of light on the other
side, or coming from above, would have been no more than the portent of his

He stopped, held
perfectly still, and listened in the dark. Nothing above, and nothing in the
sewers but the drip of water and the faint scurrying of what he hoped was a rat
and not a scorpion.

Or worse.

Stories had long
been told of ghouls living in the ancient sewers under the city, and the even
older tunnels that connected with them.  The sewers led down to the level of
the harbor and the sea, and according to rumor, the tunnels led by dark paths
to other less pleasant places. The ghouls were supposed to be cold, slow,
silent, patient things, something less than alive, but something more than
dead. It was said they could dine for a very long time on the corpse of a
victim, as they needed little and minded decay not at all.

Arjun dearly
hoped the stories were false.

He traced his
hand along the frame of the door, then took a deep breath and stepped onto the
ledge of the sewer. He felt for the door, and closed it behind him. There was
the faintest silver tracery of magic, too dim to see by, as the door sealed
again. He felt where the door had been, and there was nothing but smooth stone
wall against his hand. He knew where he must go, even if he didn’t relish it,
turned to the right, and began.

Arjun had never
walked the sewer path barefoot. It was not pleasant. Filthy stone, greasy damp,
detritus, and small bones met his toes. He stepped on something sharp, felt it
break the skin, and willed himself not to utter a sound. Something else
scurried past his toes, stopped for a moment, then bolted away

Ahead, he
thought he could see dim and faint light. He tensed, gripped the sword in his
hand, and readied himself for the lantern and the armed men.

But they did not
come. Then he remembered that he was still under the family courtyard, and
ahead was the deep shaft from the drain grating at the center. On a night like
this, where the moons were both full and bright, enough light would reach down
that shaft to be visible even from some distance.

Despite the
horrible events of the night, that thought gave him some feeble hope.

He followed the
sewer path as it advanced toward a small side passage and the niche on the
right containing the shaft. It went straight up, and was small, too small for
anyone to crawl through, but then it needed only to admit water. The light of
the moons illuminated this section of sewer. The little path, as he remembered,
was only two or three feet wide. Along its left ran a gully of foul water
another three feet across. He was grateful it hadn’t rained recently and the
water ran a foot or so below the level of the path. Though Zakran was normally
a dry place, after a storm this entire passage might be neck deep in water
rushing its way to the sea.

Ahead of him,
the passage ran off into darkness once more. He could dimly see the side
passage to the right, but that was not his way. Somewhere off in the blackness,
his way came to a little footbridge crossing the gully to the left, and then a
longer passage leading out from the district of the bronze makers, underneath
the Street of Flame, to the seedy and dangerous area between the western bazaar
and the district of the fortune tellers.

That seediness
was helpful to his purpose. Of all the passages from the sewers to the surface,
only a few were level enough to be traversable without special equipment, and
most of those ended in locked grates or in areas where someone’s emergence
would be noticed. His father had found a long disused side passage with rubble
at both ends, and an exit that at least seemed to be equally unused emerging
between two shabby warehouses.

Of course, it
was entirely likely that in a rough neighborhood, others did know of and use
it, but they themselves would be the sort of people who were not eager to meet
or alert city guardsmen.

Arjun realized
he was lingering too long. He wanted anything but to go back into that
blackness, particularly knowing he’d have to feel along carefully to find the
little footbridge. It had no rails and no marker. With light, seeing it would
be easy enough, but in the dark he could easily pass it and then wander blindly
and stupidly into the unknown. If that happened, it would be morning before
he’d have any way to find his way out.

If he was lucky.

He set his mind,
and set forth into the looming darkness.

After several
hundred feet, and a slow turn of the passage, he could again see no light at
all. He thought the bridge was still at least four hundred feet ahead, but it
would be more than disastrous to pass it. He knelt down, and started crawling
forward, feeling along the edge of the gully with his left hand, feeling for
the bridge. The edge was in some places crumbling, in others slimy and foul.

He found it difficult
to crawl with his sword in his right hand. Even going slowly and carefully, it
tended to clank on the stone, making noises that loomed very large in his dark
quiet world. The last thing he needed to do now was attract the attention of
pursuers, or of whoever or whatever might be down here.

BOOK: Blood on Bronze (Blood on Bronze Book 1)
4.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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