flASH fiction: Volume 4: Greed Bares Fruit (28)

Greed Bares Fruit
By
Jason Pere

Marx could tell that his time posing as a man of the aristocracy was coming to an end. Tonight he had doffed his fine robes of silk and been reduced to wearing a plain brown traveler’s garments and an old moth-eaten cloak. The modest clothing he currently found himself adorned with was far nicer than the tattered rags he was accustomed to wearing while directly serving his chimera master but he knew it was only a matter of time before he was back to filthy ripped tunics and threadbare pants. For the purposes of tonight the simple clothes were a necessary departure from the lavish excess that Marx had acquired a taste for in his time at the Golden Gate. Traveling the darkened streets of Ryaward’s waterfront district wearing the garb of a wealthy man was simply advertising easy prey for any lurking thugs and cutpurses.

As Marx quietly followed behind Madam Florentine he noted that she was ever the different beast when she was absent the fancy dresses, wigs and makeup of her vocation. She was similarly dressed in plain traveler’s cloths. The heavy toll of a life spent toiling away at the lust trade were laid evident in the deep lines and scars left in the veteran prostitute’s skin. Seeing her unmasked like this reminded Marx of his own collection of scars and brands that his servitude to Koin had visited upon him. In some ways he felt a kinship with the Rayward Madam. He would even go so far as saying he felt some measure of regret for his impending betrayal of the woman. He hoped that when the chimera stormed the city, that her death was a painless as one could hope. Even without her perfect accessories and embellishments Madam Florentine Bightharp maintained a fierceness in her gaze. Marx grinned softly to himself as he pictured her swallowing some exotic poison and meeting her end of her own terms as the streets of Ryaward were overrun by a feral chimera horde. It was the most appropriate and elegant way he could think of for a magnificent woman like her to perish.

Madame Florentine slowed her pace and fell in step beside Marx. “We shan’t be much longer my lord,” she said to the chimera’s agent. She kept he voice low enough that no curios ears lying in the darkness could hear her words. As her cloths and hair had changed so had the sound of her voice. With the removal of her makeup and finery, so returned the accent of a woman who had grown up in the poor district of a major Argaian city.

“Where are you taking me? I do not like to be kept uninformed longer than need be,” Marx rebutted. He had to play the part of an indignant nobleman. It was a challenge for him to conceal his genuine admiration for the woman at his side. He inwardly lamented her forthcoming demise and allowed a few moments of indulgent fantasy, hoping that perhaps she would be allowed to swear allegiance to the chimera and serve Koin as he did. He knew such a notion was farcical. She could never willingly live in the squalor and misery that Koin inflicted upon its human followers. She was bound for riches or death with no middle ground. For that, Madam Florentine had his unending respect.

“You need not worry. Soon we will be out of reach for anyone with inquisitive eyes. It is just a little further,” Said the Madam. While her diction had lost its crispness as her poverty wracked upbringing reared its head, she still managed to send a soothing and cordial measure of energy in Marx’s direction.

The two continued their journey into the night. Few people were on the streets of Rayward at this hour but as Marx and Madam Florentine plunged deeper into the city’s underbelly any traces of other human beings vanished. They were well out of the residential and mercantile districts. They had even left the industrial quarter far behind. Now all that surrounded the pair were derelict buildings and untended alleyways. Marx began to feel a precarious heat kindling to life in the back of his mouth. This neglected part of Rayward and its shadowed trails that lead to nothing and nowhere were aptly suited for a place to set an ambush. Marx wondered if perhaps his hostess might be planning to double cross him. He chided himself for not giving serious thought to the notion earlier. Plunging into an unknown corner of the city after dark with a woman he barely knew and who had a grand appetite for money seemed like a doomed undertaking. He wondered how he could have been so oblivious to let himself fall into such and uncertain state of affairs. His only answer was that Madam Florentine was clearly beyond compare when it came to the art of manipulating men to suit her purpose.

A foul and pungent odor worked its way into Marx’s nostrils. It was only an intermittent whiff at first but soon the man found the very air an affront to breath. “Goodness what is that stench? It is rank beyond anything,” he said with astonishment. He was well used to living in the most putrid conditions by the graces of his master but the scent that filled his nose at this time was more vile and revolting than anything he had experienced in the entirety of his time underneath Koin’s cloven hoof.

“Apologies my lord. Some rather unconventional means must be employed when it comes to where and how I move my exotic goods within the city’s walls,” she said in a maternal fashion. The dark twisting corridors of crumbling buildings on one side or the other of the abandoned street gave way and opened up to a large flowing body of water. “Ah here we are my lord.”

Marx felt his eyes threaten to bulge out from his skull as he looked upon the rancid flowing water. Less than a heartbeat passed before he was able to discern that the source of the horrid stench that had begun to plague him was this vast river that ran a course through the outskirts of the city. “And where is here, mam?” he asked after a hacking cough released him from it’s hold.

“This is one of the outlets for the city’s main aqueduct,” said the madam with a fantastic smile. Though she was void of makeup or fine clothes she beamed with all the majesty of a triumphant queen.

“Why are we here of all places?” Marx said with irritation. He had to cover his nose and mouth with his cloak as he spoke in order to lessen the terrible smell of sewage that permeated everything in sight.

“We are here because there is nobody else here, my lord. From the highest houses in Rayward to the most desperate urchins on the streets, nobody wants to venture where the all the filth of this city becomes one,” said Madam Florentine. She went to a small collection of wooden boxes that lined the bank of the aqueduct and rooted through some old blankets. She produced a small lantern and proceeded to light its wick. “Please tell me what you see,” she asked Marx while pointing down the large cavernous tunnel where the foul river vanished into black.

Marx humored the woman even though he found his patience rapidly waning. He began to fret that the woman had wasted his time. More than that he feared delivering a report of failure to Koin. In his bones he knew that he would not survive the delivery of unfavorable information to his chimera master. The only question was how long he would suffer before Koin ended him for his disappointment. As his thoughts ran away on him and turned to images of horrific torture and abuse Marx saw a small light come to life within the mouth of the tunnel. As he watched the outline of a longboat become visible. There was a lantern affixed to the crafts prow and beyond that it was heavily laden with boxes and crates of all varying sizes. “A boat. Your men?” Marx asked of his partner in intrigue.

“Yes, Captain Greenwaves has a small fleet of clipper ships at his disposal. They can reach any port on the continent and beyond. This is a shipment of spices and incense for Silverwood,” said the Madam as the longboat came closer into view. “He keeps the vessels anchored on the coast outside the spill way. All that there was separating us from the riches the rest of the world has to offer was an old rusty unattended grate. I had his privateers cut it ages ago. Now they come and go at my beck and call.”

“So this aqueduct goes straight through the city’s seal wall to the Bone Sea and the wilds past that?” asked Marx. The stench of this place vanished in an instant and all his being was filled with rapidly pulsing electricity.

“Indeed it does, my lord,” said Madam Florentine.

“Magnificent,” responded Marx. His hand slipped into the money bad at his hip and clenched around a fist full of gold pieces. His hand burned as the metal ran hot with evil energy but the man did not care. He felt no pain only the promise of conquest soon to come.