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The Lost Daughter (Part 3)

She stooped and entered, her light stabbing before her. The tunnel led straight for almost fifty feet before intersecting crosswise another even shorter tunnel. She grimaced and tried to see what each tunnel held, but her light could not reach far enough. She took the left-hand tunnel first, her spine shivering and her shoulder-blades trembling painfully at the thought of the two empty tunnels at her back. She groped her way forward, hunched down, almost frog-walking, and suddenly turned around. She saw nothing, and felt a bit better. She repeated the action a couple of times as she went, just in case.

She saw a little door ahead, only a three-foot square at the end of the tunnel. She whirled around again one last time, and couldn't help but let out a gasping shriek of surprise. A four-foot-tall thing stood in the tunnel, its eyes red, its skin gray and gangrenous. She could only partially see it because of the strange nature of her lantern, but she saw the tusks on its lower jaw and malice in its eyes and stance. She hacked at it weakly and felt its claws slash her thigh. She thrust out her sword almost blindly towards its head and felt the hilt jerked out of her hands. A ragged cry filled the tunnel as she crouched behind her small shield, but as the light steadied found herself victorious. The thing let out a long sigh and lay limp, her sword through its eye. Now that she could look at it she saw that it was a sewer gob, and diseased at least, though apparently not undead like the animals above. The vile little imps never fought, preferring to attack from surprise, and rarely could be found anywhere so far from civilization. Sewer goblins couldn’t hunt or farm, and so depended city refuse for survival. She could not imagine how it had lived so long. She looked at her thigh carefully, and huffed in relief when she found the wound superficial, really just a scratch. She tore off some more of her hopelessly ruined tunic and bandaged her leg as best she could, and yanked her skirt back out from under her belt. It didn't quite reach mid-thigh, it would have to do. She turned back to the little door.

She looked carefully at the simple handle for any signs of danger, then reached out and twisted it. The door opened and a horrible stench wafted out. She gagged but clenched her teeth, and leaned into the room, her shield before her. It was small, only about eight or nine feet across, and perfectly round. She saw several implements of torture on the walls: whips, thumbscrews, finger-knives. Against the wall slumped a large, sunken bed, a small bed of nails, and several small cages. One of the cages held a little skeleton, and she moaned as she saw it.

“No, no,” she whispered hoarsely, “not her, please!”

Not quite five weeks had passed, so the skeleton couldn't be her daughter, though it seemed about the right size. The fiend who ruled this ruin was a child-slayer and worse. Hope faded, but wrath blazed up in its place, and she turned and hurried as best she could to the intersection. She stopped herself, and took several deep breaths, but her anger only grew, and for a moment she forgot about her thirsty throat and parched lips, her sunburned skin and her ragged, skimpy clothing. Blood lust filled her, even though she did not yet know the worst. She stared at the tunnels and saw where the Sewer Gob had come from, its footsteps clear and new in the fine dust of the tunnel floor. She turned to the last opening, and moved cautiously down smaller tunnel, which descended quite steeply after the first few yards. She could feel her enemy ahead, and her heart blazed with hatred.

The slope became so steep that she began to have trouble with it. She shifted her feet around and slipped, landing hard on her backside and sliding a few feet down the slope. She gritted her teeth at the pain and struggled back to her feet. Her heart began to beat with fear again as hope returned with brutal suddenness. After weeks of ignoring the Divines she prayed over and over that her daughter might still be alive, as she had never dared to do in last forty days since the girl's disappearance.

“Let her live, let her live,” she heard echoing in the tunnel, then recognized her own ragged voice. She swallowed hard and tried to abandon hope, trying to get her rage back, but she felt empty and hollow, bereft of all emotion. She went on, stepped and skidded down the sandy slope, and at last slid to a halt before another door. The chamber before it rose high enough that she could actually stand up, which she did. She didn't read very well or very much, but she made out a few words carved above the door. “Tomb of the Forgot...” she couldn’t make out the rest, but her heart leapt into her throat. Tears dimmed her eyes, but she angrily blinked them away. She could not weep yet. Weeping would only make her fail. She had no hope, she no longer felt any rage, but she would have vengeance. She kicked the heavy door and it gave, opening into a round natural cave with a gallery opening to the left, stretching far beyond the reach of her lantern. She saw niches in the curved walls, and within each lay a small skeleton. She saw a dozen in the room, and many more in the galley beyond, and a choking sob escaped her lips as grief invaded her empty hopelessness. She noticed that the nearest of the skeletons look old, and dust covered it, so she hurried into the gallery, hoping against hope. Suddenly she stopped short. She had felt the press of a little hand on her arm. Another hand touched her leg. She shivered, for the hands felt icy. Something tugged at her shield. She whirled around, panting, but saw nothing. Something wrenched away her shield and threw it from her. The lantern went dark, and she cried out in horror, then shrieked as the horror grew. Small translucent shapes, luminous but faded, appeared around her. She could see the ghostly shadows of childish faces, twisted in pain and fear, hands outstretched towards her. An echoing susurration sounded around her, and she screamed again, hoarsely, and again as the sound became clear.

“Mamma, mamma, mamma,” voices whispered, on all sides of her. She felt little hands on her arms, her shoulders, her face, her legs, tugging at her ragged skirt. She felt an icy little head nestle against her breast, another on her shoulder. She felt stroking hands on her hair, and her cheeks, but the fingers remained painfully frigid. Her ragged screams faded, and she sank to her knees, panting with fear as the whispers changing to an echo of childish crying. She felt her mind reel in mad terror, and felt the floor suddenly strike her in the head. She didn’t even remember falling.

She woke to instant terror. Her memories rushed in on her, and she shuddered uncontrollably. She felt only one cold hand, touching her face very gently, and familiarly. Tears rolled out of her closed eyes.

“No, no, no, no,” she croaked from a parched throat, “no, lovey, no.”

“Wake up, little mamma,” said a voice, hollow and dead, yet familiar.

She wept then, sobs shaking her in the darkness.

“Kally,” she whispered, “oh my love, no!”

“It’s okay little mamma,” said the beloved but distant voice in her ear. “You have to be strong for my little brother.”

She sat bolt upright and opened her eyes. A pale, shining, translucent girl knelt beside her. A ring of other ghostly children stood around them, still too near for her comfort, but she would never be comfortable again. She wanted to die. She had failed.

“No, little mamma,” said the ghost of her lost daughter, “poppa is already gone on, and I’ll follow soon, but you have my little brother to protect. He’ll be along soon.”

“I should’ve known,” she gasped, “but then I haven’t been thinking for quite a while. Oh Kally, was it very terrible?”

“Yes,” said the little ghost, mournful voice ringing with pain, “it was terrible. That’s why you’re here, little mamma. You’re going to stop her.”

“Tell me where she is, I’ll more than stop her,” she growled, anger blazing up to overcome her agony, “do you know where she is, lovey?”

“Yes,” said Kally, “He told me. He said that you would stop her and we could all go home.”

“Who is that?” she asked.

“Ithos,” said the her little ghost, “he promised.”

She shivered again, from a different kind of fear, but felt confidence growing. Saint Ithos was an Archangel, patron of travelers. He often intervened to stop evil, but almost always used human angels to do the actual deed. She, the chosen angel of Ithos?

“She murdered all these children?”

“Yes, she did,” said Kally, “she is old, mamma, Rikkini over there was murdered a hundred years ago.

“Why couldn’t Saint Ithos have found another to champion him?” she asked bitterly, “a hundred years ago.”

“He’s tried,” said Kally’s ghost, “you’re the seventh. He says it never takes more than seven.”

“The seventh?” she shook her head. “No, just the last. Where is she lovey?”

“Back there,” said Kally, pointing back to the entry, “there’s a hidden door on the wall up there. Come, we’ll show you.”

She walked back along the tomb-gallery to the little round entryway. Dozens of ghostly fingers pointed out a hidden lever on the seemingly natural cave wall.

“Wait!” said a voice from far back. Her shield floated to her, carried by several insubstantial ghosts. The battered lantern emitted no light.

“You won’t need the lantern in there,” whispered Kally, “she keeps her own place light, to keep us out.”

“Does she have any more servants?”

“You killed Hurk,” said a ghost beside her daughter’s, “so she only has one more, Yeugh. He’s a sewer gob too.”

“What is she?” she asked.

“Don’t know,” said several voices.

“Goblin, though,” came a whisper, “she has pointed ears.”

“What’s her name?”

“Shayhulmi,” whispered every ghost at once.

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James Wilson
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