The Unseeing Eyes
Book I, Chapter 6
Neej-Nash was sprawled out face down on the cell’s stone floor. She took up almost all the space, and Bhollom was forced to hunker down in the back corner on small the pile of straw, hugging his knees against his chest. Neej-Nash’s stretched out her tail. It reached almost all the way to the cell’s ceiling before it flopped and begun swinging from side to side. She was making an odd noise Bhollom hadn’t heard before, something between a hiss and a purr.
“Good feels!” she finally said as she pushed herself up from the floor. Bhollom tilted his head slightly to dodge her tail as it swung by him. Neej-Nash sat on the floor with her legs crossed. She turned her head around and lapped her tongue. The sparks surrounding it illuminated the dark cell faintly before disappearing into thin air. A low rumbling sound came from beneath her robe and Neej-Nash rubbed her stomach.
“Hungry,” she said and lifted her face up toward Bhollom.
Even in the midst of his gloom, Bhollom couldn’t help but wish he could share some of the saurian’s carefree spirit. Granted, she was probably behaving this way only because she didn’t understand the seriousness of the charge against them and was utterly oblivious as to how harshly they could be punished. She knew they were wrongfully accused, so in all likelihood Neej-Nash expected to be let go tomorrow morning as the mistake was realized, Bhollom thought.
“Yeah, me too,” Bhollom said as he felt his stomach grumble too, “but what do you want me to do? You do realize we’re in prison, right?”
Bhollom thought the faint silhouettes that he could make out of Neej-Nash’s frills in the darkness made a gesture he had come to associate with a shrug.
“Is no first time,” she said.
Though he knew Neej-Nash probably would never notice it, Bhollom nodded slowly. It wasn’t the first time they had been imprisoned, he’d give her that. In fact, it had become largely routine for them in the past few months. But it was different this time. They had been arrested for begging, vagrancy, unlicensed trading, jaywalking… But never for murder.
Bhollom felt his bottom begin to fall asleep from sitting on the cold stone. He stretched his arms and tried to get up, but as soon as he put weight on his right foot he was reminded why he had decided to sit down in the first place. The dull ache in his toes exploded in a piercing wave of plain and, inhaling sharply through his gritted teeth, he tumbled forward only to be caught in Neej-Nash’s arms.
“What is?” Neej-Nash asked as he lifted the stub up and set him back on his feet. She sounded surprisingly worried. “Rags fall down much today.”
Bhollom slowly sat back down and pulled the boot and sock off his injured foot.
“Could you make some light?” he asked upon realizing that even with eyes accustomed to the darkness he could only make out the silhouettes on his toes.
Although the concepts of darkness and light had now for a long time been meaningless to her, Neej-Nash was still aware that those without her magical echo location depended on light to make clear of their surroundings. Well, at least as long as someone kept reminding her at regular intervals, she admitted to herself, and Bhollom had taken good care of that particular task.
Neej-Nash stretched out her hand. The crackle of magic spread out from the back of her head, flowing along her arm to her palm. Once there, she shaped the energy flow into the closest assumption of a flame that she could remember. She snapped her fingers and a purple, crackling light ignited in front of Bhollom’s face, glowing with an unearthly and un-flickering flame.
“Is good?” Neej-Nash asked.
“A bit brighter, please.”
Neej-Nash enhanced the magical flow to her palm and the faint flame grew larger. Satisfied that he could now see properly, Bhollom looked at his toes and winced. The second and third toe were bruised badly, and the third one was also bent to the side at an unnatural angle. Peevishly, Bhollom tried turning it into its correct position, but grunted in pain as soon as he touched the toe.
“Rags hurt?” Neej-Nash asked. She was flicking her tongue, trying to figure out what the stub was doing.
“Yes. I think my toes are broken,” Bhollom said.
Neej-Nash flared her frills.
Bhollom heard Neej-Nash’s voice suddenly get tenser.
“Men hurt Rags?”
Bhollom shook his head and told Neej-Nash he had hurt his foot on the ship. He neglected to mention the fact that he had crushed his toes in the midst of a temper tantrum, and instead said a sailor had trampled him in his hurry. Neej-Nash’s frills slumped downwards slightly.
“Rags must tell this if hurt,” she said, sounding slightly defeated.
She grabbed Bhollom’s toes with her free hand and the stub screamed in pain. He tried to pull his foot away but Neej-Nash held firm.
“This help Rags.”
The magical lighting in the cell got slightly brighter as Neej-Nash shut her eyes tight and sparkles began flowing from her hand into Bhollom’s foot. The stub felt his flesh tingle as magical energies crawled around his toes, mapping and repairing the damage. After a few minutes, Neej-Nash grabbed the broken bone and snapped it into place. Bhollom yelled out again, but the pain soon subsided and before he knew, his foot felt as if new. The bruising was still there, but at least it didn’t hurt.
“Right. I forget you could do that.”
Bhollom looked up to Neej-Nash. The glow from left hand had gotten weaker, but Bhollom could still see that she was panting heavily and her frills were glued to her neck.
“Funny Rags,” she said between gasps, “this does that all the time.”
It was true. Neej-Nash was a healer by profession after all, and they had sold her services for money every now and then. They had agreed not to do that unless absolutely necessary, however, for several reasons. Word of a healer-for-hire got around fast and without exception began to attract those hopelessly sick and poor. While the issue didn’t seem to trouble Neej-Nash, Bhollom hated refusing helping someone when they were too poor to pay for it. He had been in the same situation too many times, and the plight of the poor and miserable resonated with him all too well. It was even worse if their ailment was something Neej-Nash couldn’t help with.
And the second reason why they didn’t do it often was evident in Neej-Nash’s exhausted panting. Healing magic seemed difficult and taxing, and there was only so much Neej-Nash could do before having to rest. While Bhollom’s father had brought him up to become a tradesman, he had hammered one principle into his head well and hard: make what profit you can, but never through exploitation. Bhollom knew he wasn’t forcing her to do anything, but he still hated to see Neej-Nash all burnt out after performing her magic. Not to mention if it was because of his own injuries.
Bhollom took hold of Neej-Nash hand in which she was holding the flame and closed her fingers around it. The flame flickered and died as the magical flow sustaining it was cut off.
“Thank you, ma’am,” Bhollom said as Neej-Nash snatched her hand away from him, “but please don’t exhaust yourself on my behalf.”
Neej-Nash leaned back against the cool stones of the wall behind her. She closed her eyes and concentrated on steadying her breathing.
“Rags say big words again,” she panted. “And no calls this ‘mam’.”
Bhollom smiled to himself in the darkness.
“Take it easy, Neej-Nash.”
The saurian didn’t reply. Bhollom begun to pull his sock and boot back on, when Neej-Nash suddenly sat up, startling him.
“Man outside,” she whispered as purple spark danced in the darkness with her tongue.
Sure enough, the flickering light of a lantern appeared in the barred opening in the wall along with a scraggly gray beard.
“Eh, is that master Mohlbad in there?” a gruff, hushed voice asked.
Bhollom stood up and stepped towards the man.
“Depends. Who’s asking?”
The bearded man cleared his throat quietly.
“I’m here on Mr. Deepwater’s business.”
“Whiskers?” Bhollom asked as he realized not everyone probably called him by the nickname.
The man nodded. Suddenly, he pulled a cloak over his lantern and hushed at Bhollom. After a moment he spoke again.
“Guards,” he explained. It was Bhollom’s turn to nod.
“We’re here to help you.”
“We?” Bhollom asked.
“Some friends will soon be here with tools,” the man said. “We were sailors on your father’s ships. Mr. Deepwater sat us all down after they took you and asked if we thought good ol’ Mrs. Mohlbad brought her son up to be a murderer.”
Bhollom felt his heart sink a bit at the man’s words.
“Now of course we didn’t. You were at Mr. Deepwater’s storage, right?”
Bhollom nodded and he saw a smile spread on the man’s face.
“I knew it. So we reckoned we’d try get you out of the city.”
“You’re going to break us out?” Bhollom asked, surprised. “You’ll be breaking the law!”
The man grinned.
“There’s no sailor who hasn’t busted a friend out of the brig and sneaked him off the ship at the port. And we owe a lot to Mr. Mohlbad, all of us.”
Neej-Nash suddenly crawled up next to Bhollom and stuck her face next to the opening. Bhollom heard the man startle.
“Is fat man’s friend?”
Bhollom tugged at her sleeves to pull her back down and hushed her to lower her voice.
“Yes, he’s Whiskers’ friend. Quiet down.”
The man’s faced appeared behind the bars again.
“Gave me a mighty startle there,” he said, brushing aside Bhollom’s apologies. “Now my friends will be here soon, and we can start trying to get these bars apart.”
He grabbed one of them and gave it a hard yank.
“But we got a problem here. These things are drilled into the stone, so there’s no pulling them out. We could file through them and that would be quiet enough, but would take too long. These are some mighty thick bars.”
The man let go of the bar and tapped on the mortar between the stones.
“So the easiest thing to do is hack away at the mortar. These guard houses aren’t the sturdiest so I reckon it shouldn’t be too difficult, but it’ll be mighty loud so we have to be quick.”
Bhollom raised his eyebrows.
“You know a lot about stonework for a sailor.”
The man grinned again.
“Changed trades after your father’s accident. My own was a builder, so I learned a little something about stacking stones already as a young’un.”
He glanced over his shoulder and the tone of his voice changed to impatience.
“Now if only the others would get here. We don’t have all night.”
Neej-Nash crawled back up and stuck her face to the iron bars.
“Is here to help, yes?”
The man nodded slowly, clearly still cautious about the saurian who had knocked a man clean out in the inn. Neej-Nash clawed at the mortar, and bits of it crumbled away.
“Is friend of fat man?” she asked Bhollom. “These trust, yes?”
Bhollom chewed his lip. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust the man, but breaking out of prison? Would it be better to face the interrogators tomorrow? Would it be worth the risk?
Slowly, Bhollom nodded. Maybe they would be able to slip out of the city before sunrise and run like no tomorrow. It would mean that they would be fugitives, suspected murderers on the run, but based on their earlier interview, he didn’t exactly trust the interrogators’ objectivity.
“Yes, we trust him.”
Neej-Nash seemed to be lost in thought.
“Beard man,” she suddenly called out. The man turned to Neej-Nash.
“Beard man say many big word. This not know them all, but this stuff hold stones, yes?”
“Yes, that’s right,” the man replied. Obviously the saurian wasn’t the brightest of the bunch.
“Stone come off if stuff no there, yes?”
The man nodded. Neej-Nash flicked her tongue thoughtfully. She laid her hands on the mortar in two places around the bars and shut her eyes tight.
“Neej-Nash, what are you…?” Bhollom begun to ask, but Neej-Nash pushed him away with her tail.
Neej-Nash gritted her dagger-like teeth and conducted as much magic as she could into the space between the stones. Bhollom watched with his eyes wide as the man on the other side of the bars backed away from the sorcerous saurian. The mortar began to glow faintly around Neej-Nash’s hands. She whimpered as the glow spread further until it filled the gaps between all the stones surrounding the opening. Slowly, the mortar cracked and crumpled until it ran down to the floor in a stream of fine sand. Neej-Nash hissed as if in pain. She was trembling all over and trickle of blood ran down her tongue hanging out between her clenched teeth. Bhollom was just about to step closer to her when she lifted her hands off the wall and clapped them hard.
Eroded mortar and small pieces of stone filled the cell as the magical charge in the wall ignited, bursting in an explosion. Neej-Nash and Bhollom fell back onto the floor as the bars clattered down with the stones that held them. Bhollom clambered up onto his knees, coughing and covered in dust, and crawled over to Neej-Nash.
“By the gods,” Bhollom exclaimed. “I didn’t know you could do that!”
He turned to Neej-Nash from the hole in the wall and his expression changed from amazement to concern. She was lying against the cell door, groaning and panting and with her tongue lolling out of her mouth.
The man dropped into the cell through the newly-made entrance.
“By my beard, lass! That’s some mighty impressive work!” he said with admiration in his voice.
“Someone must have heard that, though. We need to go!”
Bhollom was holding Neej-Nash in his arms, calling her name and slapping her face.
“Stay with me! You can’t pass out now, we have to get out!”
“Rags… Go…” Neej-Nash groaned.
Bhollom’s face tightened as a mix of anger and determination brewed up in his chest.
“All of the hells take me if I leave you here!” he hissed from behind his teeth. He jerked to face the man who knelt down onto the floor and threw Neej-Nash’s arm over his shoulder without command.
With much effort, the two managed to push and drag Neej-Nash out of the cell and onto the street. With the saurian held between them they discarded the lantern and disappeared into the night as guards burst into the cell.