A Side of Sewage

Submitted into Contest #105 in response to: Write your story from the perspective of a side character.... view prompt

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Fantasy Adventure

“I’m counting on you,” Markus says, hand on my shoulder and heel already turned to go.

Heh. Ain’t that the gods’ honest truth.

I nod, but he and the others are off before so much as a single hair on my head sways back from the motion. They’re not brushing me off, of course: they just have more important things to attend to. World-saving things. It’s only natural someone has to be left behind to guard the escape route. It’s only natural that someone is me.

… And it’s only natural that the escape route is the smelliest sewer tunnel in this plane of existence or any other.

That aside, I don’t blame Markus for basically consigning me to my death. He holds no ill will toward me—and vice versa—but we both know I’m the closest thing to an all-rounder we have, equipped to adequately deal with a wide range of threats. I’m nothing like Markus—the Chosen One’s the Chosen One, after all—but my magic is nearly as potent as Pirello’s, my swordplay is barely on par with a left-handed Nessa’s, and my distraction game could almost distract you from Jil’s. It may not sound like much, yet considering how monumentally talented they all are, I’m still one tough customer. Come hells or high water, I have the best chance of staving off anything or anyone from stabbing Markus in the back.

But gods damn if this tunnel doesn’t reek! Convincing myself that Markus chose me for a reason is the only thing keeping me from drowning myself in sewage—though whatever that thing that just floated by was is certainly helping. For all I know, it could be the shriveled up, hole-riddled head of the last person who stood sentinel down here.

GHARRRrrr…

Ah, the guardian beast is still drawing breath. Could’ve sworn Nessa struck its heart, but it most likely has more than one. Since no one or nothing else’s around, I may as well put the poor thing out of its—

No! The second I take my eyes off the half-eaten grate Markus and the others sidled past, it’s over. For all I know, there are eyes on me right now, perched in the shadows until I start twiddling my thumbs or nodding off. Hells, for all I know, the owner—or owners—of those eyes prodded the dying creature to get a reaction out of it, to lure me from my sacred post.

That’s how I have to think of this: a sacred post. Should I falter, Markus could die, and if that happens…

Yeah. Either focus, or potentially, indirectly get the only hope for salvation killed. Easy choice, if you ask me. Io wouldn’t let me hear the end of it if I failed—a far more dreadful fate than any apocalyptic scenario imaginable.

Oh, Io. Thinking of you grants me strength, the resolve to stand tall no matter what comes. I couldn’t ask for a better sister.

In a way, it’s because of her that I’m so good at playing the supporting role. She’s the older sibling by a good five years, so of course she was always the leader on our “adventures” as kids—sort of like Markus, only smaller and much, much louder. Through her, I learned how to defend, how to sit back until the time is right, how to distinguish followable orders from questionable ones. Without her, I…

GHAA—

That cut off quick. Quiet. Something or someone is close.

“Closer than you think.”

I loose my sword from its sheath before the first syllable blends into the second. If whoever this is knew what I was thinking, I’m dealing with a mind-reader. Which can only mean one person.

“Bet you wish you could say ‘Show yourself!’ don’t you?” the voice drawls. Where the hells is it coming from? “Why worry, mute? You just thought it yourself: I’m a mind-reader. If anyone can pierce through your wordlessness and understand the person beneath, it’s me.”

I know he’s near enough to strike, but just to be safe, I coat my sword with a magical aura that amplifies its cutting power.

“Mm, smart. Will it be enough to save you, though? Or should I say: will it be enough to save your friends?”

It has to be.

“Of course, of course. You would think that.”

Are you going to cower and hide any longer than you already have, or do you intend to fight?

“Considering I could’ve slipped past you without disturbing the air, I think we both know the answer to that.”

Anyone else would’ve laughed after saying something like that, but he’s dead serious. I ready my blade, taking the best stance I can while half submerged in the city’s refuse.

“I didn’t say right away, did I? We haven’t caught up since I slaughtered Eames in that shoddy excuse for a village a month back. How’ve you been?”

Not in the mood, you slimy bastard.

“Oh, must you always be so impolite? I only killed him because he was going to do the same to me. No hard feelings.”

Despite his earlier claim, the hairs on my neck stand up in response to a slight shift in the air. I swing—hard.

“Yeesh! I forget how much of a punch you pack sometimes. Hard to blame me when you gallivant around with powerhouses like Markus, though.” A pause. He knows what he’s going to say next, but he insists on torturing me. “Then again, it’s always easy to forget a mute.

I swing again—harder.

“Tsk, tsk. You forget yourself: I’m just as forgettable as you are.”

If only.

“No, really. Think about it. When townsfolk speak of the ‘impending doom’ or whatever they call it looming over them every hour of every day, who do they speak of? Th’ana, the irresistible man-eater whose wiles tantalize the gods themselves! Heraldon, the steadfast executioner whose axe can slice through even the thickest stone! Zaava, the cloud-touching giantess whose footsteps are oft mistaken for earthquakes! And who could forget the head of the operation, the one person mighty enough to bring even Markus to heel? Sarai, the soon-to-be-goddess of this world whose steely gaze alone brings kingdoms to their knees! Together, they’re more than enough to wipe your merry little band of do-gooders from existence!”

… You done yet?

“No, not quite. Us side characters don’t ever get the spotlight for this long, and you’re the perfect audience for my once-in-a-lifetime monologue.”

Another shift in the air, this one harder to catch. I adjust my stance slowly, knowing I have ample time to do so.

“With the most dangerously beautiful woman in the world, an emotionless automaton wielding an unstoppable weapon, a titaness who could sit on entire towns, and a half-mortal, half-divine being walking among us, who has the light of day to remember a lowly, invisible thief? One they’d be nothing without, mind you.” Did he just… sigh? “You have no idea.”

I have every idea. I thought that might’ve been the point of your monologue—how we’re more alike than I previously thought, the whole bit. You even led into it by saying we’re equally forgettable.

“Well, I…”

Listen. I understand where you’re coming from, and I don’t. I know I’m the most forgettable member of my group, but I never feel that way. Markus knows how to use my talents just as Sarai knows how to use yours, but he also cares about me—about my opinion. He left me here because we acknowledge each other’s strengths: he’s the vanguard, I’m the rearguard. That’s how it is. It’s not a problem, and it doesn’t affect our relationship outside of battle. We’re not the best of friends, but we understand one another.

“Is that… so?”

Yes.

“Mm.”

Two splashes sound not far to my right—his knives, most likely. The same knives that sapped the life from Eames’s eyes.

“Go ahead, mute.”

I’m sorry.

“Don’t be. One of these days, I’d have probably ended up dead in Th’ana’s bed, or cleaved in two by Heraldon, or crushed beneath Zaava, or—”

I swing my sword. It connects. Bloody sewage splashes upward, drenching my chest.

Don’t worry, Io. I’m coming home.

August 05, 2021 05:11

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