The noise of the river tumbling over the rocks is nearly deafening here, cutting off most other sounds. The way ahead is partially blocked by a pile of fallen stones from an earlier collapse. This stair to the cavity below is slick with moss and the ever-present spew of water. The floor oozes with a thick coating of mud, making it necessary for the original occupant to hollow out a series of long, earthen shelves several feet above the floor. These still contain the remains of what must have been an impressive storeroom, now completely ruined by dankness and mold. A few tarnished disks of metal have been left behind, and shreds of what once might have been a fine bolt of cloth. Brackets where torches might once have stood are still affixed in place, but they are black with rust.
The path comes to an abrupt dead end, with no other visible means of escape than the same, slippery fall of rocks used to arrive here.
Lanisen forages along the cave wall, digging behind a shelf with a piece of rock. His hands are filthy, and several smaller holes along the bank and in increasingly random places along the muddy floor indicate where he has been hunting for clay. He doesn’t seem to have had much, if any, luck.
Jana peeks into the room, looking a bit cross and also like she’s been up most of the night. “Have you found anything yet? Or are you just hiding again?”
Lanisen startles and hits his head on the shelf above him. He looks behind him toward Jana, wary-eyed, then shakes his head, too tired to respond to the jibe. He backs out of the corner and leans against the wall, dropping the muddy rock he seems to be using to dig.
Jana scowls, and moves to his side, kneeling in the mud and plunging her hands into it to feel around. “I meant what I said before.”
Lanisen rubs his forehead with the back of his hand, getting mud on his face. “What’d you say before?” he asks wearily.
Jana says, “You and me could take on Zan together if we had to. Not that I want to fight him or nothing. But if we had to, we could.”
Lanisen looks up at her, frowning. “Think so?”
Jana says, “Well, better chances than if we were separate anyway. And if he goes for one, he’ll go for the other soon enough.”
Lanisen swallows. “He’ll kill me soon ‘s he gets bored,” he says evenly. “‘Course, so will Myrd, if he comes back.” He leans his head back against the wall again, watching Jana’s face.
Jana pulls her hands out of the mud, giving up on that area and moving downstream a little ways. “Myrd don’t generally kill ‘cept if he has to. You don’t throw out a tool just cause it needs some polish. Zan maybe though. All the more reason for you and me to make a pact to watch each other’s back.”
Lanisen goes still and suspicious, then begins to roll some of the mud off his hands, dropping it in clumps back down to the floor. “You mean that?” he finally asks. “For here, while we’re stuck down here, or after too?”
Jana says, “Sure, but I got some conditions in that case.”
Lanisen says, “‘M listenin’.”
Jana says, “Sometimes I ain’t gonna look like I’m watching your back and you just gotta trust me about that.”
Jana frowns, and plunges her hands into the mud of the actual river itself.
Lanisen says, “Meanin’ you’re gonna be keepin’ your good standing with Myrd at my expense.”
Jana says, “No. Meaning sometimes to get what you want you got to make it look like you want the opposite. Boss didn’t kill you and part of that’s cause he thought it got my britches in a knot to see you sticking around.”
Lanisen says, “So what happens if Myrd all the sudden decides to go with what you say, then.”
Jana shrugs, unbothered by the prospect. “Then we switch tactics.”
Lanisen raises his eyebrows at her, too tired and afraid to rein in his sarcasm. “/Good/ plan.”
Jana asks, “Anyway, since when was Myrd the type to do what people ask of him?”
Lanisen rubs his nose, getting more dirt on it. “True, but… it’s sort of… Convincing him to kill me or not to kill me? It’s…” He trails off and shrugs, looking like he’s not entirely sure how to argue the question.
Jana says, “Honey, you ain’t got much room for arguin’.”
Lanisen pulls his knees up to his chest. “Right,” he sighs glumly. “Whatever you want. I don’t care.”
Jana raises her brows at him. “Ain’t such a bad thing. You don’t want my help?”
Lanisen doesn’t answer or look at Jana, instead resting his chin on his arms and poking the mud with the toe of his boot. He looks exhausted.
Jana asks, “Hey, don’t be so glum. You got somebody on your side now. Why’s that got you down?”
Lanisen grins wanly and stretches out his legs. “It don’t.”
Jana eyes him.
Lanisen crosses his arms. “Any clay over there?”
Jana lifts her hands out of the mud. “No.”
Lanisen sighs and lets his head thunk back against the wall. “Whoever built this place dug quite a ways to build that… room.” He gestures downstream, indicating the chamber where he found the other clay. “We don’t got any shovels…”
Jana shrugs. “Ain’t the end of the world.”
Lanisen says darkly, “Might be the end of us, ‘less we can find somethin’ else to patch the boat up with.”
Jana says, “You did it before, can do it again.”
Lanisen says, “That was before you smashed it.”
Jana says, “Don’t make no difference.”
Lanisen sighs and explains patiently, though with pardonable irritation, “I used up the best wood for that. And it still leaked somethin’ awful. I’m light, so I managed anyway. But you smashed the best wood.”
Jana still seems unconcerned. “Then we’ll get clay out of the other room once that Shenzi wench is dead.”
Lanisen blanches and stares at her.
Jana asks, “What’d you think, we just figured we’d get her really angry and then let her out?”
Lanisen looks sick. “Oh.”
Jana asks, “You ain’t never killed nobody?”
Lanisen draws a shaky breath. “That’s– Jana, it’s– it’s /awful/, in there, it’s…” He stops. “If that’s– if they’re gonna kill her, they should just–”
Jana looks at him and considers him a few moments. Finally, she says, “Suggest it to Zan.”
Lanisen stares at her, his eyes gone wide.
Jana says, “He’s the one who’s in charge, ain’t he? And he’s the one who can get her out of there, too.”
Zan saunters into the room. “Wha’s takin’ so long?” he grunts irritably.
Jana says, “Well, look who decided to show his pretty face.”
Lanisen scrambles to look like he’s doing something productive.
Zan scowls at Jana. “One day I’ll cut that tongue o’ yers righ outta yer mouth.”
Jana seems unperturbed. “Boy here wants to loose the Calormene and slit her throat.”
Lanisen starts. He stares at Jana, disbelieving.
Zan says, “Sounds like a plan ta me.”
Jana looks at Lanisen. “Told you.”
Zan says, “Heck, I dun much care WHAT we do with ‘er.”
Zan’s face takes on a look of contemplation. “You know… I been told ’em Calormenes are fiesty.”
Lanisen recoils slightly.
Jana looks disgusted. “I seen her fight. She ain’t easy to take down without you getting her riled.”
Zan asks, “All the more fun, righ’?”
Jana picks up a loose stone and chucks it at him.
The stone bounces off harmlessly, but he glares at her nonetheless. “Oh, sorry,” he sneers, not sounding it at all. “I offend yer womanly sensibilities?”
Jana rises. “I got better things to do than discuss this-” she uses an appropriate vulgarity to describe the situation, “-with you.”
Zan exclaims, “Then get to it, woman! Wouldn’ wanna waste tha precious time o’ yers.”
Jana whisks past him out of the room, in the direction of the half-assembled boat.
Lanisen rocks back on his heels, watching her go.
Zan sneers. “Boy, stop starin’. She ain’ THAT good lookin’. Even if ya ain’ never got yerself a girl.”
Lanisen stands up and crosses to rinse the mud off his hands. “No, no… ‘m just thinkin’. That… Shenzi killed that squire, right? She must know a thing or two about fightin’.” He shrugs carelessly. “I reckon you’re the only one here who could take her on. ‘Course,” he adds hastily, “if you didn’t want to, we’d all understand.”
Zan reaches out and grabs Lanisen by his shirt. “You callin’ me a coward, boy?”
Lanisen draws a quick breath and nearly loses his nerve, but he shakes his head urgently, his eyes very wide. “No, no, I wouldn’t say that, I know you better’n that. All I’m sayin’ is if she knows how to fight enough to kill off that squire, then there’s nothin’ wrong with just slittin’ her throat an’ callin’ it good. More prudent, see?”
Zan throws Lanisen back. “You’re’n even bigger moron’n I thought.”
Lanisen stumbles. He hits the ground with a grunt and curls in on himself, winded.
Zan takes out his dagger and advances on Lanisen. “SHE put you upta this? Huh?”
Lanisen scrambles to his feet and stumbles backward over rocks and uneven ground, his eyes on the dagger. “Up to… up to what?”
Zan advances some more. “Don’ play dumb with me, boy!”
Lanisen pales and backs further away from Zan. “I’m not…” He glances down the path to the main chamber. “I’m not playin’ dumb!”
Jana slips back into the storeroom and leans against the arch of the passage into the room, frowning. “You boys in a spat already?”
Zan glares at Jana. “I know you’s behind this. You really think that… MORON coul’ trick me? HUH?!”
Jana says, “Didn’t tell nobody to trick nobody.”
Zan exclaims, “I dun believe you!”
Jana shrugs. “Alright, then I did. What’d I tell him to trick you about?”
Zan glares at her. “You know darn well wha.”
Jana rolls her eyes. “You really think I’d trust him to do something that took smarts?”
Zan thinks about that for the moment. His eyes slide over to Lanisen. “Yeah… s’pose yer righ’.” He advances once more on Lanisen. “Gimme one good reason I shouldn’ cut yer throat righ now.”
Jana asks, “Why’re we slittin’ each other’s throat’s when we got a throat over in that other room we can slit?”
Zan exclaims, “Shut up, woman!”
Lanisen flounders for an answer, still backing away with his hands up. “I’d… smell bad?”
Zan says, “Can’ be worse’n you already smell.”
Jana folds her arms and scowls silently from the passageway.
Zan’s face breaks out in a wide smirk. “Bu’ since you wanted ta see the Calormene figh’ so bad, howbout we send YOU ta kill ‘er?”
Lanisen blanches and says weakly, “I can’t take her, I know I can’t–”
Zan exclaims, “Be a man, you whiney little girl!”
Lanisen says, “Whole idea behind watching her fight was to learn. Nobody’d learn anything if I fought her – she’d kill me too fast.”
Zan says, “I ain’ lookin’ ta learn anythin’ from you, moron.”
Lanisen all but rolls his eyes. “From /her/.”
Zan says, “Ain’ lookin ta learn anythin’ from her neither.”
Lanisen says, “If you can’t learn anythin’ from her, then how come’re you scared to fight her?”
Jana mumbles something incomprehensible to Jana.
Zan says, “Never said I was. But I’ll enjoy seein’ her slit yer throat more.”
Jana says, “I got a question.”
Zan snarls, “What?”
Jana asks, “What if Myrd’s alive and he comes back and the boy’s dead?”
Zan shrugs. “Wha’s he gonna do? Kill all o’ us?”
Jana says, “Ain’t gonna make things better for us, that’s sure.”
Zan says, “Ain’ gonna make thins much worse, neither.”
Jana asks, “If you’re so independent of him, how come you didn’t split long time ago?”
Zan says, “‘Cause he didn’ get dumb long time ‘go.”
Jana snorts. “I got you. And him acting dumb can’t possibly be cause he’s got something up his sleeve that needs it.”
Zan says, “He’da told me if’n’e hadn’ lost ‘is wits.”
Jana examines her nails. “That so.”
Zan says, “Tha’s right.”
Lanisen begins to cautiously put some more distance between himself and Zan.
Jana says, “Guess you know a different Myrd then what I do.”
Zan says, “Myrd don’ trust you. Never did. Use ta trust me ‘fore you came ‘long’n screwed things up.”
Jana raises her brows, a smirk forming across her face. “Sounds like Myrd got smarter then, not dumber.”
Zan sneers at her. “Yeh jus dunno a real man when you see one.”
Jana asks, “Aw, you’re still sore about that, are you?”
Zan scoffs. “‘Bout you? I wouldn’ sleep with you if’n yeh begged me to.” Only he doesn’t say it quite that nicely.
Jana rolls her eyes. “Glad we got that out of the way.”
Jana examines her nails. “Myrd don’t come back in two days, then you can feed the boy to the Calormene. Til then, we wait.”
Zan asks, “Ain’ tha’ sweet. You really think he’s coming back, donchya?”
Jana says, “Think I ain’t putting myself in any more trouble than I hafta be in.”
Zan scoffs and stomps off, muttering. “…waste o’ time…”
Zan returns to the main chamber, following the sound of the river.
Jana watches him pass with a frown that betrays her deep dislike.
Lanisen exhales, his face etched with relief. He glances at Jana with trepidation.
Jana gives him a silent nod that shows no comradery whatsoever, and returns to the main chamber as well.