Lindsay Buroker

Dark Currents


The clanging of the alarm bell reverberated through the aqueduct tunnels. Marl “Books” Mugdildor squished along the slippery ledge as quickly as the footing allowed. It was a long, twisty walk to Pumping Station Five’s Intake Duct Number Nine.

“How about you speed it up, Booksie?” his comrade asked. “It’d be nice to figure out what’s blocking up the tunnel before piles of city workers come down to check on the alarm and realize wanted men are hiding out in their pumping house.”

Books glared over his shoulder. Of course Maldynado had no trouble with the treacherous footing. He was younger, stronger, more agile, and-according to the women-the most gorgeous human being in the city. Not that the latter offered an advantage in navigating aqueducts, but it added to Books’s overall annoyance with the man.

“Do you want to go ahead?” Books asked.

“Gladly.” Maldynado planted a hand on Books’s shoulder and mashed him against the wall to pass.

Books dropped his kerosene lantern and nearly lost an important appendage when Maldynado’s sword hilt grazed him. “Blundering troglodyte,” he muttered.

“Save your endearments for later. There’s work to do.”

Books rolled his eyes toward the arched ceiling but picked up his lantern and followed. He increased his pace to keep up. More than once his foot slipped off the ledge and splashed into the water flowing through the channel. It could be worse: they could be hiding out in a sewage pumping station.

Maldynado slowed down when the water rose over the ledge and lapped at their boots. “I didn’t know this would involve getting wet.”

“When the waterway is blocked, the water rises. Surely even warrior caste louts such as yourself have heard of dams.”

Maldynado lifted a soggy leather boot and grimaced as droplets dribbled from the tassels. “Yes, but these were made by Svunn and Hilderk. They cost a fortune, and we’re making…rather less than a fortune.”

Books rolled his eyes. “Just keep moving.”

They slogged through ever deepening water, and Books shivered as icy currents tugged at his calves. Somewhere nearby, machinery clanked and ground. They had worked their way through the maze of tunnels and now walked close to the pumping station’s exterior wall. Books hefted his lantern, figuring they should be able to see the blockage soon.


Steel glinted, reflecting the lantern flame. A grate across the channel marked an entrance to the pumping house. Something dark and shadowy pressed against the rusty bars, partially blocking the water flow.

Books leaned out for a better look. His heel slipped off the ledge, his butt slammed into the slick brick, and he bounced into the channel with a startled squawk. His lantern flew free. Cold water engulfed him, flooding his mouth and nostrils. He flailed for the surface.

Despite the blockage ahead, a strong current tugged him down the tunnel. Books maneuvered his head above water, but the only light was behind him. Maldynado, still standing on the walkway, soon faded from view, and darkness smothered Books.

He groped with his feet, trying to find the bottom. The water was too deep. He reached for the ledge, but the slick surface evaded his scrabbling fingers.

He bumped against something. Not the grate, but…cloth? A rigid protrusion jabbed into his ribs. He tried to swim away, but it tangled in his clothing.

Or something was deliberately grabbing him.

Heart thundering, he kicked, desperate to break the hold. His foot caught in something else. He flailed uselessly until his knuckles rapped against metal. The grate. If he could grab it, he could use it to pull his way to the side of the tunnel. But when he reached for it, his hand brushed against seaweed. No, not seaweed. Hair. He gripped something smooth. A forehead and a nose and…

“Gah!” Books shrieked. He was tangled up with human bodies. “Get them off, get them off!”

He tried again to push away, but he grew more entwined in the mess. There were bodies underwater too.

Finally, a hand grabbed him by the collar and dragged him free. Maldynado. Books latched onto his arm like a starving tick clinging to a dog’s tail.

With Maldynado’s help, Books found the ledge with his feet and braced himself against the brick wall. More than five feet of water covered the walkway, and it offered little respite. Water streamed past his chest, still tugging at him.

Panting, Books maneuvered behind Maldynado before turning to look at what their one remaining lantern revealed.

At least three bloated bodies were caught in the grate. With a shaking hand, Books rubbed water off his face. It took him a moment to realize a new sound had joined the clanging alarm bell. Maldynado’s deep laughs echoed off the walls with riotous enthusiasm.

“Oh, be quiet,” Books muttered.

“That was priceless.” Maldynado wiped tears from his eyes. He imitated Books’s screams and burst out laughing all over again.

Though cold water surrounded Books, the heat flushing his cheeks kept him warm. “Are you done yet? We need to move these bodies so that ancestors-cursed bell will stop.”

Maldynado wiped his eyes again. “Oh, my. Even if the pay is lacking, I must say I love my job.”

They dragged the corpses back to a dry alcove. With the obstruction clear, the alarm cut off, and Books allowed himself to relax an iota. He removed his shirt to wring it dry. Rivulets of cold water dripped from his shoulder-length hair and ran down his back.

“Did you know,” Maldynado said, “you are possibly the hairiest Turgonian man I’ve ever seen?”

Books sighed, wondering how much torment he would have to endure before the day ended. “Let’s examine the bodies, see what they’re doing down here.”

“I’m not even sure why you wear a shirt. I’ve seen sweaters with less fuzz.”

“Why are you looking anyway?” Books wrestled the sodden shirt back on and pushed past him. “I thought you preferred ladies.”

“Oh, I do. And you’ve thoughtfully reminded me why.”

Books made a point of turning his back to Maldynado as he studied the corpses. They had recovered three men and one woman. All the bodies had the bronze skin and dark hair of Turgonian citizens. Fortunately, the icy water had preserved them somewhat, and they did not stink yet. The men wore shredded gray utility uniforms, torn open where deep, garish wounds scored their chests and limbs. Someone had slashed the lady’s throat. She wore a businesswoman’s long black skirt and jacket, both torn and stained from the trip through the channels. All appeared to have been killed before they hit the water. Unless there was something clawed and inhuman lurking in the capital city’s aqueducts. Books grimaced at that thought.

“Where do you figure they came from?” Maldynado picked a clump of something green off his shirt.

Books paced around the corpses, in part to think, in part to generate warmth. His sodden clothing clung to him, damp and cold. “The aqueduct access points are locked, and only city workers have keys,” he said. “Either someone got a hold of one of those keys and dumped the bodies, or they’ve been in here since the source.”

“The source? The lake?”

“Municipal water doesn’t come from the lake,” Books said. “Dolt.”

“How would I know?”

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