Chapter 35

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Owen frowned as he walked into the darkness. A few stones glowed with a dim blue light along the walls, barely illuminating the contours of the cave. His nose wrinkled as the smell of rotting meat assaulted him. He placed his hand in his leather bag and gripped the cloth pouch containing Palan’s poison as he continued forward, tiptoeing. After rounding a bend, he entered a circular room with a single green orb hanging from the ceiling, faintly illuminating the darkness, but not enough to see clearly.

Owen squinted and peered into the room. “Hello?” he asked, voice barely above a whisper, as he took a single step forward. There was no response. He took another step forward while holding his breath, his hand clenched the cloth sack which was now in front of his chest. He took another step forward, causing his foot to sink downwards. He inhaled sharply and leapt back, casting his gaze to the ground. A suspiciously humanoid object lay on the floor in the fetal position.

“A lizardman?” Owen murmured as he squat next to the body. It was impossible to discern anything other than its outline in the darkness. He frowned and looked up at the ceiling, reaching his hand towards the green orb. Dust fell from the ceiling as the walls trembled. A cylinder of stone shot out of the ceiling, knocking the orb towards Owen’s waiting hand. He caught it and held it in over the body. The light shone on the person’s face, revealing a pair of open eyes staring right at him. Owen swore and leapt backwards, dropping the orb. His heart raced in his chest as he hunched over, ready to throw the poison at a moment’s notice.

Several pounding heartbeats later, the corpse still hadn’t moved and Owen slowly lowered the pouch to his side, taking in a deep breath. He straightened his back and walked up to the corpse. He wiggled his foot in front of the corpse’s face before kicking its shoulder, causing it to splay on its back. He picked up the orb and dusted off the dirt before holding it over the body. The green light shone against the body’s bare chest, creating a ruddy brown color. Multiple stab wounds perforated the corpse’s abdomen, a dagger laying loosely in its hand. Owen frowned and picked up the dagger; it glowed red in the green light, blade untarnished. Inscribed along the metal was a single word.

Anidun.

Owen sucked in his breath and gazed at the angel’s dead face. Its eyes still remained open, lacking pupils and an iris. A smear of coagulated blood trailed from its mouth to its ear like a snake. The body was naked, except for a cloth kilt, riding up to its thighs. Owen’s hand trembled as he reached towards the corpse’s neck, placing his fingers next to its adam’s apple. There was no pulse.

Owen frowned as he stood up and explored the rest of the cavern, illuminating the darkness with the green orb. The room was empty, save for a hole dug into one corner. A putrid stench wafted from the hole into Owen’s nostril, causing the angel to gag. He rushed away from the corner and returned to the corpse, turning its body over. The only thing under the angel’s body was a black stain that was soft and sticky to touch. He stared at the body and frowned before placing the dagger into his bag.

Owen squat next to Anidun’s corpse and lifted it, his right arm by its shoulder blades and his left arm underneath its knees. His nose wrinkled, but he exhaled and headed towards the exit. The two suns hung in the sky overhead when Owen stepped out of the cave, squinting because of the light. He heard gasps coming from beyond the stone wall as he walked along the mud-brick road, still carrying Anidun’s body.

“What is the meaning of this?” the lizardman chieftain asked as it crossed the stone threshold and headed towards Owen, its guards following from behind with their hands gripping metal lances.

“Anidun is dead,” Owen said and motioned at the corpse with his head. “I was too late.”

The chieftain frowned as it stepped forward and seized Anidun’s face, turning it towards himself. Its claws pierced the corpse’s flesh as a shiver rolled down the chieftain’s spine. Its eyes swept over the body, stopping on the self-inflicted dagger wounds. “This…” the lizardman said as it raised its head, glaring into Owen’s eyes. It growled and punched Owen in the face, not giving the angel a chance to react. “Capture him!”

Owen fell to the ground, clutching his jaw as Anidun’s corpse fell out of his arms. One of the guards marched forward and hit Owen in the temple with the butt of its lance, knocking him out, his body falling limp to the ground. The guards grabbed one arm each and lifted Owen up. The chieftain curled its lip as the guards looked at it. “Stick him with the slaves; keep him separated,” it said as its eyes ran down Owen’s body. It reached forward and tore off the leather bag by the angel’s waist.

The guards nodded and marched off, dragging Owen towards the outskirts of the city. The chieftain watched the guards disappear around a corner before it opened the leather bag and fished out Anidun’s dagger, holding it in front of its face. The red suns shone on the dagger, but there was no reflection on its silver blade, almost as if it was absorbing the rays of light. The lizardman ran its fingers along the edge of the blade. It smiled before placing the dagger back in the bag and picked up the cloth pouch. It pulled it open and peered at the multicolored powder within. It brought the pouch to its nose and sniffed at it, inhaling the top layer.

The chieftain’s body shuddered and froze, a tiny rivulet of blood leaking from its nostril. It fell forward, face first onto the ground with the cloth bag plastered to its nose. No one noticed its twitching body on the mud-brick road within the forbidden area of the city until hours after it stopped moving.


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