The Stains of Dark Waters
Copyright 2003 by
Edward Lockhart

A long black coat gently brushed against a displaced and dirtied cobblestone, one of many strewn throughout the ill-kept avenue. His eyes, like the embers of some forgotten conflagration, looked downward, lest they were exposed to some unexpected wind and burst into the flames they had once been. His hands were clasp within his heavy coat’s broad pocket. Though he huddled against no chill breeze in the warm, still air. A child’s scream cut through his echoing footsteps. He slowly raised his head and revealed so much more than his red-rimmed eyes and tear stained face. He showed himself to be no true denizen of this wretchedly beautiful city. His pace never slowed and he never turned around. The child’s scream was quickly broken off. The ’Slags had most likely claimed another.

He looked up once again as he hurriedly made his way around the corner of a dilapidated old building built of sulphur-stained mud colored brick. The entirety of the city was plagued by the cursed sulphorous rain, but the Lower Ward was the dwelling for those that made their living by the sweat of their brow and the break of their back. The streets he walked were swept only by the feet of the masses.

As a passing breeze ruffled his sea foam green hair, his fiery orbs were raised once again. In a quiet and unintentionally honeyed voice he asked the wind to carry his whispered farewell to the only friend he had ever known. The wind obeyed and he finally surveyed the broad and ill kept avenue on which he purposefully strode. Hundreds of strangers walked this cobbled street. Most had their hands in their pockets and hurried along keeping to themselves. Some few talked in huddled groups; their backs turned towards all the familiar strangers, to whom they never spoke. The few in the center of the street were outlined by the enormous towers of the ‘Foundry. Those stacks forever boiled out clouds of thick, black smoke. Inside countless generations of Godsmen toiled to shape metals and, according to their dogma, shaped also themselves as they took each moment and test in life to advance to something better in their next.

He continued walking down the busy avenue that only an outsider would have called alive. His pace was steady and quick. His eyes remained firmly focused on the ground for the mile or more of winding city streets he navigated. He looked upwards once more. A long, grey, stone bridge stretched out before him. Over it’s edge was the relatively short fall to the trash and sewage ridden water below. Soon the flow of the river Oceanus would be released to cleanse the wretched ditch below him. But what stream, he wondered, would cleanse the wretched masses from the teeming streets of Sigil. He only wished that there might be a stream to wash away the horrid stains from his soul. Until then he had nothing other than his fear.

Fear was his mistress. They embraced often and she never stayed far. She took him by the hand and led him through the broad avenues of the Lady’s Ward. Past faceless and opulent houses they flew. Bitter remembrances of youth washed over him. He was already coated in their resin and the stains could never deepen. He gripped his mistress’s hand tighter. Fear was all he had. She raised him from birth and now had led him to the “dancing square”. Row upon row of gallows cast a grim shadow in Sigil’s muted midday light.

He stood in the crowd, alone again. His wind-dried eyes traced the imposing wall behind the public gallows. A company of men paced atop the wall in blood red, baroque armor. Heavy helms shadowed their dark and uncaring faces. The wall itself existed simply to keep the world from touching the prisoners within and the those within from the without. The prison was home to the Mercykiller’s and those who were to face a fanatical justice.

The hollow toning of a distant bell cut through the excited buzz of the gathering crowd. Masses surged past him to break against the feet of wooden stages. A long line of prisoners were marched out of the suddenly open prison gates. They were to await their final freedom. Each prisoner was led to his very own leafless tree, the last thing any of them would ever own.

With no small effort the he searched the damned for the only being who had ever shown him kindness. A pair of once bright eyes met his own. Those eyes stood atop a stool on the far side of the front row of gallows. The eyes belonged to a broken figure, small of stature, but of monumental import to the pale, dark eyed friend who was about to watch him fall. The noose around the figures neck had only three loops. The fall would not be so long as to break ones neck. Then at some unheard signal a red-armored Mercykiller kicked the stool aside. As it skittered across the stage, a black-coated figure fell to his knees. Darkness swarmed over his vision. His mistress flew to his side and pulled him from the black waters of his grief.

Far across the twisting streets of Sigil a balding greengrocer politely chatted with yet another customer he knew by face if not in name. He was startled to see a face he did not know fleeing down a long grey bridge, a short distance from his small shop. Whitish-green hair flew behind dark, wild eyes.

This black swathed stranger hurled himself over the bridge’s railing. He rushed towards the broken plane of the dark water’s oily surface. A heart-beat later there was a great eruption of formerly still refuse. The pale-faced stranger was borne under as the tainted waters sought to close the door he had just opened. A moment later he surfaced, gasping for air. The waters around him began to churn. The foulest of odors escaped their confines. The flow of the river Oceanus was set free. The crystal waters washed the refuse aside. He was quickly pinned against one of the bridge’s mighty pillars. The flow of the great river cleansed him of the dark resin in which he was coated.

Authored by: Ken Lipka
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