They dropped into the sewer through the drain opening. The sunlight filtering in from above created a small circle of visibility around them.
“What’s that smell?”
“Shit. What did you think it would be?”
“No, other than the shit,” he sniffed again, “it smells like… mint, I guess?”
“Peppermint or fresh mint?”
“Bollocks. Right. Do exactly as I say.”
“What’s going on?”
“There are things down here that are worse than the rats. Creatures. Monsters that will tear you limb from limb in an instant,” Daryl had swung his satchel in front of him and was searching through it, “you’ll be walking along, hear a ripping sound and wonder why you can see your own spin dangling below you. Then the pain hits, and the shock, and you die, either from trauma or blood loss. If one grabs you then a low pain threshold is an advantage.”
“Why the hell did you lead us down here then?”
“They’re easy enough to avoid if you’re ready for them. You’ve just got to know the tricks,” he pulled a broken twig from his bag, “and, luckily for you, I do.” He grinned at James.
“If we escaped down here just to be torn up I’ll fucking kill you.”
“You wouldn’t have a chance. And we’re fine anyway. I can smell it too now, which means it’s getting closer.” He dragged the end of the twig quickly along the wall and a flameless light flared out from it, lighting the sewers up for eight or so feet in each direction.
“They’re scared of light?”
“No, but if it’s too bright they can’t see. They avoid light if possible. If they’re really hungry they’ll run at it and try to grab something edible, but that doesn’t happen much, and we’ve got some pork to throw if it does.”
“Why not use a normal torch?”
“Down here? Pockets of gas.”
“Does that actually happen?”
“I don’t know. Want to find out?”
“Let’s just use the twig.”
“We should hurry before they realise what we’ve done. Which way is it?”
“I don’t know. I can only get us there above ground.”
“So where are he headed above ground?”
“Then we go this way,” said Daryl, pointing up one of the sewer tunnels. They began walking.
“How many times have you been down here?”
“No idea. How many times have you walked to work?”
“I dunno. Thousands, I guess.”
“You’ve lost count, or never even bothered counting because it’s a mundane, insignificant detail, right? That’s what this is to me.”
“A mundane and insignificant stroll through the sewers with man-eating monsters in them whilst being pursued by murderers.”
“The last bit’s new.”
Daryl led them around corners, past other openings, over small walkways which stretched from one side of the tunnels to the other and on and on, through a network of tunnels which may as well have been the most elaborately constructed maze in existence as far as James was concerned. “How much farther?” he asked.
“I’m taking us the long way around.”
“Because we have less chance of running into somebody.”
“Running into somebody in the sewers?”
“You’d be surprised. There’s a lot of demand for a safe, secret passage under the city.”
“A safe, secret passage filled with man-eating monsters.”
“You’re fixating on those. It’s not filled with them and most aren’t big enough to kill a person anyway. There are perfectly easy ways of dealing with them. You’ve got more chance of being hit by a stagecoach up above than you do of getting torn apart down here.”
“Getting hit by a stagecoach isn’t necessarily fatal.”
“It probably hurts considerably less too.”
“Who would we be likely to run into?”
“Nobody that would harm us, but if somebody recognised us or got asked about us, they’d be willing to let on what they knew for a little compensation.”
“Think they’d follow us down here?”
“Definitely. They wouldn’t have much chance tracking us if they didn’t have somebody who knew the routes though.”
“They’ve got a magician working for them.”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“They’ve followed me before but I might have been careless. Even if I was, they found me really quickly.”
“Better hurry then.”
“Still got their scent?”
“Yeah. It’s fresh too. Can’t be more then fifteen minutes ahead of us.”
“Keep going then, don’t let them widen the gap.”
The sniffing man ran along the street, then crouched down by a drain cover. “Here,” he said.
“Unless the bastard screwed the spell up and I’m following rats, yeah.”
“Step aside. I’ll get it open.” He lifted up the drain cover and threw it into the street.
“Reckon you’ll fit down there?” said the other.
“I’ll be fine. You concentrate on that smell. If you lose them then you’ll get what they’ve got coming.”
The pair clambered down into the sewer, framed in the circle of daylight spilling in from above them.
“You got a torch?” asked the sniffer.
“Yeah, but you can’t light them down here. There’s gas pockets everywhere.”
“How do you know that?”
“My brother-in-law used to do some running down here. He said nobody uses fire in case they run into a gas pocket, then boom! Nothing left but blood and shit covering the walls.”
“What do we do then?”
“Follow them. Keep your hand on the wall so you don’t fall in and keep chasing. He said if he was ever without a light that’s what he’d do until he came to a way out.” They set off into the darkness, sniffer leading the way until, a few minutes later, he cried out in pain.
“Fucking hell!” The sniffer started clawing at his nose, “It’s making my fucking eyes burn! What is that?”
The big one sniffed. “Can’t smell anything but the shit,” he said.
“Jesus! It’s getting stronger!”
“Are you alright?”
“No! I am not fucking alright! Can’t you fucking smell that?”
The big one sniffed again. “Yeah, actually,” he sniffed once more, “smells like… peppermint?”
Then there was a scream.