flASH fiction: Volume 4: Rayward Besieged (32)

Rayward Besieged
By
Jason Pere

Madam Florentine made her way to the bank of the aqueduct’s spillway as she had many times before. He pace was quickened this night as she found herself propelled by the euphoria of her most recent business arrangement. The deal she had stuck with Lord Marx Roseway was about as close to perfection as she could imagine. The man had not even made the faintest attempt at negotiations. The Madam smiled a wide and glamorous grin, in spite of the rank odor that wafted from the river of filth that cut through the abandoned outskirts of Rayward’s interior cityscape. For nothing more than a simple introduction the purveyor of vise and excess would receive one tenth of all profits that the Lord and his master would reap form their endeavors in Rayward. The sum quoted by Lord Marx had been an impressive number and it put heat in the Madam’s blood.

She had given little thought to the notion of retirement. Though her trade was comfort and leisure, she seldom got to enjoy any of the atmosphere that she provided for the guests of the Golden Gate. It was no small task to keep her place of exotic distractions and fantasies in smooth working order. Providing the nobility of Raywayd with their wildest fantasies and sating whatever peculiar appetites or whims her clients had was a gritty reality. The recent arrangements that she had made with the Lord would offer her such a profound increase in her income that she could give legitimate consideration to the idea of a life beyond bringing bizarre and depraved dreams into the flesh. Madam Florentine had spent all of her life either surviving or fulfilling the wishes of others, she found herself musing at how little though she had given to her own wants over the years. She clearly had a large volume of lost time to make up for. The idea of having other’s wait on her carvings gave her a delightfully soft tingling quality in the core of her belly.

While tonight was nothing more than business as usual for the Madam, it was still a bother for her to engineer. Every aspect of her world required meticulous calculation and thought. Her life was largely degraded down into columns of expenses and returns. She barely even saw the commodities she bought and sold. Whether it was food, wine, art or skin Madame Florentine saw it all the same. Everything in her world had turned into a cost, margin or profit. In a way she had become blind to life. Living behind the wonder caused her to lose sight of the various joys and pleasures that swirled around her every day. Her eyes were dreadfully weary of seeing past the colorful exterior and superficial adornments meant to attract a buyer and facilitate commerce. She dreadfully wanted to lay her eyes on something real, at least once. She could not recall the last time she had seen something that was not a veiled shroud from something else.

Madam Florentine’s purpose here was still far removed from anything genuine. She had come to receive a shipment of various spices and herbs from Lighthouse Bay. The food at the Golden Gate was just asdelectable as anything that could be found in the personal kitchens of Argaia’s most elite aristocracy. While the items she was awaiting were all potently flavorful and would greatly enhance any dish they were added to, their principle function was to operate as a means to lessen inhibitions of those who consumed them. Some of the spices were even know aphrodisiacs. It struck the Madam as peculiar that she should have to seek a means of furthering the desire for vise and baser longing of her clientele. Most of the men who frequented the Golden Gate required no coaxing when it came to the exchange of coin for pleasure. Still, some well times chemical aids in the foreplay ensured that her guests would abandon all restraint or thought of the future while within the comfort of her hospitality. It ultimately was the difference between someone leaving the Golden Gate with a few gold pieces to rub together or nothing but an empty money purse and a head full of foggy carnal memories.

The experienced lady of ill repute went to the collection of boxes and crates that she utilized for her purpose on the bank of the aqueduct. Madam Florentine rooted through the jumbled mess for the signal lantern. She hefted the sturdy little lamp from its hiding place and rubbed at the glass panes with one of the dingy nearby scraps of canvas. She lit the wick of the lantern and set it on top of the stack of crates where she usually kept it. Madam Florentine waited, surrounded by the flowing river of Rayward’s human filth. Certainly, being free of this horrid ritual would be one of the greatest things to look forward to in a life of monetary freedom. Though her eyes were gaining in age, they were still sharp enough in the night. She strained to see the return light of Captain Greenwaves’s longboat. Normally the captain was not tardy in his response. It only made sense that he would want to spend as little time waiting in the spillway as possible. As putrid as it was standing on the bank, Madam Florentine could only imagine the foul experience of actually sailing on the disgusting body of water.

Something moved in the darkness of the aqueduct’s tunnel. The Madam felt her breath catch in her throat as she waited for the Captain to emerge from the shadowed mouth of the spillway. She wondered if perhaps the city guard had become aware of her activities here. She grimaced as her mind ran over the cost to benefit calculations of a fresh round of bribes and reevaluating the expense of doing business with her contacts among the city officials. Her analysis of sums and measures was put to a swift end as a hot wave of mortal dread washed over her entire body.

She heard them before she saw them. From the darkness of the spillway came a primal screech, like the Bone Sea itself had been brought to a boil. Madam Florentine knew that the source of the sound was nothing that any human could have produced. Moments after hearing their terrifying clarion call, she saw a slew of reptilian chimera, swimming against the flow of the aqueduct. It was an impossible sight for her to process. In the core of her bones she knew that what she saw was true. The chimera had in fact come to Rayward. She felt like her mind broke in half as she was stuck by something horrible and fantastic all at once. She had spent so many days longing to see something that was not some kind of grand illusion and now here she was face to face with a raw and visceral reality. Her longstanding wish had come to pass and sooner than she expected. She had finally seen something real and it was terrifying. After her ears and eyes had confirmed the presence of the twisted beasts, pouring into a city that was supposed to be protected by impenetrable gates, the only thing she could feel were the cobblestones of the Rayward’s streets slamming against her heels as she started to run for her life.