The Shrouded Widow

Submitted into Contest #149 in response to: Start your story with the flickering of a light.... view prompt

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Fantasy Fiction Urban Fantasy

The Shrouded Widow lit one last candle in her office when she heard a knock. Her black shroud covering every last inch of her face and form.

“Who is it, Albert?” She asked softly, turning - the breeze from her shroud causing the candle to flicker.

“A petitioner, my lady. A young man who wishes to join the syndicate.”

She walked to the tall wooden door and opened it, revealing her old and trusted manservant and a young man in clothes just as old, bearing an eyepatch. He bowed with a flourish of his tall hat.

“My lady,” he said. “My name is Kerrik, a rogue by trade. I wish to join the Dusk Syndicate, if you’d have me.”

The Widow stood stockstill, her shroud moving along with the flames of the candles. “Have you met with any of my Lieutenants?”

Kerrik looked around The Widow’s office - it was covered in cobwebs and candles, the windows outside giving a morbid view of the slums, drenched in rain. It was a good place to hide, and once he gained The Widow’s confidence, the Pandemonium Syndicate would pay highly for any information he would get.

“Yes,” he said after a somewhat long pause. “Lieutenant Asden in the North Quarter.”

Albert stepped to the side of Kerrik. “He tells the truth, your ladyship. He passed the rogue’s course with some ease.”

The Widow, still unmoving, continued her questioning. “And you were boatswain on the Fallen Eagle during its last voyage?”

How had she known that? That was a literal lifetime ago. Kerrik blinked both of his eyes.

“I- Well, yes.”

“And you died during that voyage as well?”

Kerrik gulped. “I am a revenant, yes - brought to life during The Resurgence, of course.”

There was a long pause before the Widow spoke. “Interesting. Not too many of those around anymore are there, Albert?”

“Correct, my lady. I believe our young rogue is technically illegal, according to our beloved Church. He was clever enough to survive the Cleansing, at least.”

Kerrik chuckled, caught off guard and eager to defend his character. “I don’t... you know, eat... human brains or anything. Cow brains are easier to get, anyway.”

There was another pause as the Widow thought. The two men stood quietly. Kerrik swayed a little, but that was natural. Eventually she spoke.

“I have a special assignment for you, my undead minion.”

Kerrik celebrated internally. Externally, he smiled and bowed a little. The Widow continued.

“You know of the Tomb of the Forgotten Paladin?”

Kerrik inhaled, even though he didn’t need to. “Indeed, my lady.”

“Our scouts have defeated the first test: the flying blades of Karush.”

Albert interrupted. “Well, they are chained down in any case.”

“Yes, thank you Albert. The second test is... well, not for the living.”

Kerrik nodded. “That’s not a problem for me, as you well know... y-your ladyship.”

“Indeed,” she intoned. “We don’t know what it is as of yet, so you will be receiving hazard pay. The entrance to the tomb is behind the bar at the Crimson Wish. Avoid detection, of course. Talk to the barmaid to gain access. Tell her you’d like Yellow Bird Ale.”

Kerrik acknowledged it, bowed once more, and was led back downstairs by Albert to sign some contracts. Kerrik looked up at the nearby clocktower - sinking and tilting - and noticed it was nearly ten in the morning: a perfect time to go, when it was at its least busy.

The Crimson Wish was, like the rest of this part of town: sinking, tilting, old... He straightened up and walked in. A dwarven barmaid had just put the “OPEN” sign in the window.

“‘Allo there!” She said, chipper as could be.

“Good morn, good morn,” he said. “Do you have any... Yellow Bird Ale?” He flashed his pentagram pendant under his robes, sign of the Dusk Syndicate.

She turned, stroked her beard, and gave a knowing smirk. “Aye, young man, we do. One moment.” She strode behind the bar and Kerrik leaned to see what lever the barmaid pushed - always good to play both sides. Unfortunately, he couldn’t see over the bar. “You’ve good timin’,” she continued. “Frok won’t be in for another fifteen moments.”

Kerrik nodded and made his way down the wooden staircase as the creak of the hidden passageway closed above him - clouding him in darkness. He saw a cockroach and hid it in his pouch as a snack for later.

The wooden staircase slowly turned into a stone one, then into dirt, then into mud. The town was slowly sinking into the sea, it was true.

But what luck! he thought, the tomb of the Unknown Paladin itself! He almost whistled as he waded into the freezing waters of some long-forgotten cave, lit an eerie blue by self-illuminating algae. As Kerrik submerged himself, he was pleased to see that the algea down there was helpful as well.

The underwater caverns were extensive for sure, and as he walk-swam, he wondered how anyone who needed to breath could have navigated them. Eventually he came up a long, slow slope to another forgotten cavern - this one with a pentagram carved into the algae on the wall.

This must be it, he concluded, stepping into a dark cavern entrance. This time, the mud became grass, and the grass transitioned into stone. After a little while, Kerrik came upon a grand castle, sunken deep into the earth. Kerrik marveled at how complete it was and how huge the cavern it was contained in was. He whistled a slow whistle as he made his way to the drawbridge.

In the grand hall, he saw three flaming swords chained to a wall: one red, one yellow, one blue. Littering the hall were skeletons wearing chain and plate - victims of the deathless flying guardians. The animated swords were straining at their chains and Kerrik merely stuck his gray tongue out at them, looking around for anything that could indicate the entrance to the second test.

Spying a couple of suits of armor blocking a door with their pikes, Kerrik moved delicately. He checked the suits for traps and found one under one of their armpits. He threw his packet of ‘snacks’ onto a floor plate he noticed between the two statues. Immediately, the eyes within their faceplates awoke, shining red light all over the room. Kerrik tried to avoid their red gaze as long as possible, but it was unavoidable: soon he was ‘scanned’ - or whatever, he thought... but the statues didn’t move.

Looking around, trembling a little, he stepped past the guards and into a darkened room. Sitting on a wooden chair was a skeleton in plate mail, a pentagram pendant around its neck. Kerrik scowled.

The undead rogue went around the corner and ‘borrowed’ a pike from one of the guardians: He struggled a bit, then ripped it out of its metal hands. Carefully, Kerrik removed the pendant from the skeleton using the end of the long pike. 

Well, well, he thought. The Gray Man would pay dearly for this bobble, I suspect... Carefully putting it around his own neck, Kerrik looked around for any more traps and quietly exited the room. He looked at the floating swords and wondered if he could release them, but as soon as he felt the chains he felt a chill in his undead bones.

All right, nevermind that then.

The way was clear, all the way back up to the Crimson Wish. He pulled a little bell pulley he saw there and heard a voice.

“Is that you?” the dwarf barmaid said from a horn in the ceiling of the wet cavern.

“Indeed,” he whispered back.

He waited a few minutes before a different part of the ceiling/floor opened up near him and into the outhouse.

“Sorry,” the dwarf said sheepishly, pulling him out of an unused toilet.

“No bother, miss,” he said, adjusting his eyepatch. “By the way...”

She looked up at him, her eyes glittering.

“...love your beard.”

He skipped out of the loo, headed toward the Coins Quarter where the Pandemonium Syndicate was located. Avoiding merchants and pickpockets, he used the graveyard as a more direct route - knowing that the living feared it and the rest viewed him as not a threat.

One of the easier paths to the Pandemonium Manor was through the mausoleum of his old captain.

“Captain,” he said, tipping his tricorner hat.

“Kerrik,” the captain said - a skull on a pile of gold.

Opening a hidden door, he arrived in the manor itself. It was gray - unlike the Dusk Syndicate’s old, stately brown. He didn’t like the color mismatch, but it didn’t matter.

The manor itself was cold and filled with ghosts. In the library off to the side, he saw a gray shadow.

The Gray Man.

It asked him why he was there. Kerrik felt odd.

“I have a relic from the Pandemonium Institute, i-if you’re interested.”

The shadow moved. It was faceless and sinking into the ground - a lot like the city itself. Kerrik didn’t like this anymore. It asked him a question.

“Uh, well, if you have the gold I can tell you...”

It threatened him. Kerrik stepped back and thudded into a thing he could only describe as a tall, wooden mannequin. When it swiped at him, he ducked - flying through the mausoleum entrance and back through his old captain’s grave once more.

“CAPTAIN!” he screamed, tipping his hat once more.

“KERRRIIIK! WHAT DID YOU D-” 

Flying out of the tomb, followed by wooden men, Kerrik made his way - as fast as his undead legs could carry him - back through town - back through where the Dusk Syndicate’s stronghold was. He nearly slid into the Shrouded Widow’s office.

The Widow tsk tsk’d. Kerrik sheepishly smiled.

June 10, 2022 20:44

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3 comments

Graham Kinross
11:48 Jun 16, 2022

I like the mythology you have in this, how casual it is to talk to the undead. Please write more in this world or like this. Let me know when it’s up, this is great.

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Szal V
15:44 Jun 16, 2022

Hey thank you Graham! I'm glad you like it. For sure I'll let you know if I come up with more :)

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Graham Kinross
21:35 Jun 16, 2022

Great.

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