Lighters in the Undercity | Fiction

Ratz looked out from the large cowl of his Lighter’s uniform as he passed the shadowed vestibules of Riverton’s Undercity. Overhead, the vaulted stone ceiling which separated the rich and the poor, looked utterly stable and always out of reach. Still, Ratz never liked walking down here amongst the denizens who couldn’t afford to live in daylight.

Instead, an armada of young Pyromancers from the College of Sel Pirt would wander the streets ensuring that the enchanted lamps of the Undercity were still working. There were thousands of lamps, each one fitted with a special candle which ought to last for about a decade without even flickering. However, expectations in the Undercity were always being subverted. Tonight Ratz had had to replace 6 candles, something which shouldn’t be possible because of the protection and longevity spells placed upon them.

“Lighter?” A voice whispered from the darkness on the other side of the cobbled street. Anywhere else, such a narrow space would be an alley, but this was the main walk which ran parallel to the Underground River. The meagrest sense of pride in the Mayor’s office had elevated it to the exhalted title of Street, one of only two down there.

“Yes? Who’s there?” Ratz gulped bringing his own lamp to bear on the source of the voice. He’d heard savage tales of what goes on in the perpetual dark of the Undercity and though he knew the authority of Lighters’ was typically respected; he felt it necessary to be wary.

“Please, not so bright.” The Undercite hissed from in between buildings. With careful concentration, Ratz willed the light to dim until he could make out the woman whom he was speaking to. She was young and slight with large knobbly joints.

“Sorry.” Ratz apologized instinctively despite what senior Lighters had told him. They’d said to treat the Undercity with caution and never let Undercites get too close.

“We’re not all so used to the flames. There now, thank you. I was just wondering, now I’m not going to ask for money or anything. I’m just hungry and wondered if you had something to eat. An apple, or some bread? Please I’m so hungry and…” Ratz regarded the woman. He had been instructed in the past never to give anything to the Undercites no matter their claims. Chances were, they did in fact want your money despite their assertions and would resort to thievery if they knew a person had money on them. At least that’s what Overseer Walst told the Lighters.

“Please sir…” She finished. Ratz, having lived his childhood malnourished, took pity on her and in spite of his training, handed her a small piece of his darkbread ration.

“Here, it’s not much, but darkbread should keep you going for a little while longer…” He trailed off, hoping that their transaction was complete. Kind as it might have been, he still didn’t trust her.

“Thank you sir.” She sighed gratefully as her white hand, marbled by grime and shaking accepted the hard lump of bread. Ratz nodded.

She slunk back into the shadow of the Undercity and Ratz felt a conflicted relief as she did. He remembered years ago when his mother couldn’t afford bread and they would go hungry scraping together enough odd jobs and scraps until they could afford food again. It was never easy, but he had survived long enough to apply to the College of Magic on the mainland. Though, that too had been a bit of a struggle.

From the moment Ratz had sat down at his interview, the interviewer had made it clear that someone of Ratz’s pedigree was wasting everyone’s time by coming there that day. The interviewer contemptuously introduced himself as Chalms, then went through the motions of being conducting the interview.

“Name?” Chalms sighed.

“Ratzer del Heizen.” He responded with uncharacteristic certainty. Not that he would be uncertain by my name, he just didn’t like talking to strangers. It was what kept him from getting day work in the past, but mother had a way of sending me off with some of the labourers she saw.

“Age?”

“11.” This time he was less sure, when he was born, as his mom hadn’t exactly been an upstanding citizen. He had a feeling she had been on spices when she was carrying him. It meant that the circumstances of his birth were hardly clear to any parties involved. Still Ratz knew he had to give a good impression.

“From?”

“Heizen.” He stated to an unsurprised snort of derision from Chalms. Clearly a surname like del Heizen was more a matter of indentifying where he had been born rather than a cultured reference to lineage.

“And why are you here?” It was barely a question. Chalms had stopped drumming his fingers on the table for this moment, bringing to bear his strongest scowl to discourage Ratz.

“Because I think… I know I can do magic.” Ratz said, his confidence growing defiantly.

“You know? Would you care to show me?” His eyebrows never grew back.

Fire on Water | Fiction

Here’s a bit of fiction I wrote on my lunch break. Just a scene from something larger that’s been flocculating in my mind. Hope you enjoy!

Del looked at the lantern on his table wishing that he wasn’t forbidden by the ship’s hydromancer from doing magic while at sea. He was used to not being able to use any magic. Technically speaking he was only allowed to use magic while at the Academy, but this restriction wasn’t so suffocating on land. On warm, dry land where there was a sun overhead or fires in a nearby hearth. The thought only reminded him of how far from shore they were. It felt like ages since he’d come aboard when in fact it had only been half a day or so. It was just half a day on a cold ship in the middle of the sea was driving him slightly mad, like he was already drowning.

“Captain wants you up above.” A gruff deckhand yelled from what he estimated was a safe distance.  Del rose slowly, compensating for the gentle heave and sway of the ship around him. It was only a day long trip from Sel Buod to Sel Pirt, but every moment of it had been taxing. Del didn’t like the moist sea air, and though it was slightly drier in the pitch soaked timbers below deck, the smell and rocking made him slightly nauseous.

Del walked slowly hoping to avoid tripping in the dark which he had done more than once on the trip so far. If there was one thing he hated more than being isolated, damp and sea-sick, it was the very real threat of making a spectacle of himself. People with an affinity for pyromancy were heavily encouraged to tread lightly. Contrasting the bombastic passion of the fire they channel, pyromancers had always been cautioned from making a scene. They were looked down upon enough in the Kingdom of Sel and surely any attention threatened swift retribution.

He rounded the corner to the stairs of the upper deck and noticed a pink glow from above. Forgetting his sickness, he rushed forward hoping, however strangely, that the ship might be on fire before reminding himself that drowning was a less desired outcome of this trip. Instead he stood on deck as the waning sun lit the sky and water on fire with flamboyant oranges and pinks.

For the first time since setting foot on the ship, he felt a small measure of solace. He quickened his pace without realizing it and headed to the helm of the ship where the grizzled captain and his placid hydromancer stood.

“You wanted to see me, uh Captian?”

“Just wanted to make sure you hadn’t decided to light the ship on fire.” He said with a wink. He was a tanned coarse man meant for the sea with a friendly belligerence that, if Del had encountered under other circumstances wouldn’t have hated.

“No sir.” Del said avoiding the captain’s gaze and dry sense of humour.

“Just checking. We’ll be coming in earlier than we thought. You have Cya to thank for that.”

“Thank you.” Del said obediently, despite her condescending attitude towards him when he got onboard. The forced gratitude went unnoticed by the hydromancer who was too busy concentrating on the propulsion of the ship. Her hands rolled slowly over the air in front of her as though she was moving them through molasses. Del knew that it was part of the incantation. She was quelling any ripples around them while hastening the ship through the water. If he didn’t dislike the hydromancers so much, he would’ve probably found the motion soothing.

“Your school likely won’t have anyone there to pick you up until morning. You can stay onboard overnight as long as we’re in port or…” Del didn’t even need to know what the ‘or’ was to find it the more favourable option. “…there’s an inn just off the dock. It’s not much, but it’ll probably be better for everyone if you stay there.”

“Thank you.” Del repeated despite the unflattering explanation of the second option. Being untrusted was better than the looks of derision that he got from the rest of the crew. Still, the captain seemed to treat him, a pyromancer, with a little more respect than most had. Most others would hardly have made port before kicking him off, so the illusion of choice in the matter was refreshing.

“Don’t mention it.” He said, staring off into the distance, “Seriously. If the crew thinks I’m warming to lighters like you, they’d mutiny.”