Sewer Slayer- Short Story Winner
I won a monthly short story contest over the summer on the Fantasy Faction Forum. The topic was employment, revolving around those who do the grunt work with little glory. Here it is. I hope you enjoy.
“Not one of them could suffer this fetid rot,” Hulda grumbled. He sank his shovel into the crusted ooze blocking the sewer channel. It quivered as something deep inside took hold. The burly old man wrestled the now twisting handle but continued to talk. “Yet they get to be the heroes. They come to Travindal seeking quests and glory at the behest of the king. Slay the dragons of the moors. Banish the shade of Galoffis. They poke one creature dead and come back to a bounty. I fight things every day, and all I get is two silver marks a week.”
“I only make a half mark,” the young man behind Hulda complained.
“You gotta kill something to earn more.”
“Then let me kill that thing,” the young man argued.
“This one’s well above your pay grade, apprentice. That barbarian who slew the minotaur had his celebration dinner the other day. What he dropped in the sewers, I don’t even want to face.”
“Is it that bad?” As he spoke the words, the shovel handle snapped. Both men jumped back just as the mound of twitching sewage rose up with a roar.
“Two Strength Elixirs and a Stoneskin Potion. It isn’t good. Those heroes never seem to realize all those magic potions they drink have to go somewhere,” Hulda continued instructing even as he hefted an old rusted hammer and battered the sentient sludge. “The Sludges aren’t that bad if it’s just one potion, but two or three, and they start getting ornery.” The older man taunted the brown
Sludge until it sent out feelers to grab him. Then he smashed them with his hammer, splattering the
debris and reducing the creature’s size with each strike. It took nearly ten minutes to batter it down enough to find its core and destroy it for good. By the time it was done, both men were thoroughly covered in what remained.
“Two marks for this. I bet dragon blood don’t smell like that. What do you think? Pevil, is it? Never can member your names. No one’s lasted three days.”
“Percivel,” the apprentice corrected then spit as a little bit of sludge got in his mouth. “So when do I get to kill something? If I have to stink, I at least want a story to tell at the bar.”
“There you go, Pervel. That’s the spirit. I’ll tell you what. I hear that priest Andriel did a mass resurrection yesterday. How about we go hunt down some of the carcasses from last night’s feast, and I’ll let you banish em with a little holy water.”
“Are they mean?” the young man asked.
“Not since the queen got on her poultry obsession. But I tell you that month the king demanded roast boar I could barely keep these sewers clear.”
“Someone should tell them, you know,” Percivel replied as they turned down another corridor.
Everything you do for them. Because of them. I mean, if you weren’t down here killing these things, what would they do?”
“Look twice fore sitting their heroic butts on a latrine I bet,” Hulda answered, but he was distracted.
“Did you see that?”
“What?” the apprentice asked.
“I thought I saw something moving. Bubbling. Never mind.” Hulda continued on but was clearly unnerved.
“Someone should tell them. Tonight,” Percivel suggested. “While they’re all here.”
“Yeah, haven’t you heard? The king declared war on his brother. He summoned his thousand champions and the wizards’ council. Everybody’s talking about it. I can’t believe you didn’t hear.”
“I’ve been down here since late last night burning out a den of Scrubbins thanks to that elven diplomat and his entourage. Their vegetarian diet may be all nice for them, but they don’t have to fight the sewer treants and fungors.”
“So, the king caught his wife with his brother. She’s in the dungeon, and he’s declared war. He bought out the entire alchemy shop for the royal toast. Plans to enchant everyone all at once and then attack before his brother even knows what’s coming.”
“This is terrible,” Hulda declared with growing concern. “Someone has to stop them.”
“You can’t. It’s been going for a while now. Can’t you hear the music?” Percivel replied.
“I’m hearing something much scarier than music, boy. Idiots! I told that bogbitten bureaucrat the sewers couldn’t handle more than ten enchanted heroes at a time.”
“Why? What happens?”
“You don’t want to know,” Hulda answered. A savage shriek split the dense quiet of the underground and echoed down the numerous passageways almost in answer.
“What happens when there’s a thousand?” Percivel asked. There was terror in his eyes.
“Not even I want to know that, Pelvil,” Hulda replied as he urged the apprentice down a different corridor. “Now move. Those heroes are bad enough. But a wizard might as well have a bladder full of lightning, enchanted or not. There’s nothing we can do for them now.”
As they fled, the slime choked channels began to glow an eerie green. The magical emissions from the revelers upstairs wasted little time spreading through the turbid waters. And as the magic spread, the sewers came to life. Beetles and rats flooded out of their nooks into the passages, maddened by the hellish concoction. Hulda set about smashing a trail through them with his hammer. Percivel held a broken shovel handle close as he followed but was too scared to use it.
“Where are we going?” Percivel screamed above the unnatural hum of batwings above. Hulda struck the creatures from the sky, but the bodies that fell looked nothing like bats.
“I think I finally decided to take up my brother’s offer of killing swamp rats in Felgrin Bog. You might want to consider doing the same,” Hulda answered.
“What about my job? I just moved to Travindal from the farm.”
“Boy, there isn’t gonna be a Travindal after tonight. Run!”
They waded through the horde of heroic excretion, killing everything they could and fleeing anything that wouldn’t die. But at last, they arrived at an exit gate. Hulda urged the apprentice through, then locked the gate behind them and fled into the countryside.
From a hill overlooking the city, Hulda and his apprentice watched as Travindal was devoured from beneath. The king’s army never marched upon his brother. They died with the king and queen as the great city of heroes vanished into a smoldering crater of reeking ooze. And it all could have been avoided if they had just listened to the rantings of the old sewer man.
“So, these rats,” Percivel asked as they set out on the southern road the next morning. “Are they supercharged too?”
“Big for sure. But nothing you can’t handle,” Hulda replied. “It’s the Bogwomps you need to worry about. But you’ll just have to see one to believe it.”
“I don’t know if I’m up for this, Hulda. This seems harder than what heroes do. And you don’t even get the credit.”
“You’ll do fine, Percivel.” Hulda gave a wink. “Did better than my first night. Besides, the world
needs us. The heroes are only ever in it for the loot. They don’t think about all the damage they do.
Someone has to look out for the people.”
“You would think they would at least pay us more,” Percivel grumbled.
“That’s the biggest lesson to take from this, boy. The ones who do the hardest work and the most good are usually the ones stuck mucking everyone else’s filth. You won’t get any credit and will likely get a bunch of blame. But, in the end, the world would follow Travindal if we didn’t.
“You really are a hero, Hulda.”
“Too broke to be a hero, Percivel. I’m a Sewer Slayer.”
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