When they finally reached the top of long rising hill Chase pulled his horse to a stop to gaze at the spectacular structure that was now before him. From the top of the hill the road coasted down gently for another mile until it reached the entry point to the bridge. The land there dropped off in sheer cliffs almost straight down for several miles.
SoQue rode up next to him.
“Every time I see it, “ he started to say.
“Amazing,” Chase finished.
They slowly started down the sprawling hill.
“I have been here before,” Chase said quietly.
“You told me that you had spent some time here shortly after we first met,” SoQue replied.
“I remember the city beyond, but just as scenery,” Chase continued.
On the far side of the massive span the learned city of Pilaster sat perched onto of a tower of rock with sheer cliffs on all sides.
“Pilaster is the seat of vast knowledge. Many of the great libraries sent their works there when they saw the end of the Empire.”
“You went to school there,” Chase said.
“Yes,” SoQue replied with a chuckle. “Many years ago now, but I was taught there. I can even now see the tower where I spent a great deal of my time as a youth.”
SoQue pointed across the way but Chase was focusing on the activity on the bridge itself. The road wandered down to the entry point of the bridge. He could see that it was not too busy. There were several groups making their way onto and off of the bridge. Two massive guard towers standing at least thirty men high guarded the entryway. There were no guards in the towers and Chase had never known the towers to contain guards, but he did not trust his memory in any matter anymore.
“Was this bridge ever fought over?” he asked SoQue
“Could you imagine?” SoQue said as Brother Mensel rode up to the other side of Chase.
“Magnificent, wouldn’t you say?” Brother Mensel asked the pair.
“Mensel, have you ever heard of any fighting for Pilaster?” SoQue asked.
“Or pitched battles on the bridge itself?” Chase continued.
“Never. The bridge is an ancient structure. As far back as we have written knowledge, when this point in land was found the bridge and much of the city beyond was already here. The bridge was just a simple span at that point, or course,” Brother Mensel said.
“A simple span?” SoQue exclaimed. “It was made by the Gods for sure.”
“There are no gods,” Nunzio mumbled in the background.
“Well, of course, not a simple span,” Brother Mensel corrected himself. “The structure was spectacular even when it was first discovered; I simply meant that it was only a bridge at that time to connect the landmass with the island beyond. The City on the Bridge is a modern addition to the ancient structure.”
Chase studied the bridge more closely. It was very wide, wide enough that two columns of riders, twenty men wide, could ride past each other without getting into spitting distance. But the width of the bridge, while spectacular in its own right, was only a minor feature in the structure. It spanned over three miles. From where the land dropped off into water miles below the bridge sprung forth from the stone. It spanned the gap between the land mass the Chase was currently coming to the end of, to the tower of land on the other side.
“It must have been made by the Gods,” Chase ventured.
“Very unlikely,” Brother Mensel said.
Chase and SoQue turned their heads in unison to look at him as Nunzio rode past them nudging his horse hard into Chase’s.
“That is not to say the structure anything but magnificent. More fabulous than anything created in the Empire, but there are many indications that it was fabricated over time by humans, or creatures similar in stature to humans.”
“What indications?” SoQue asked
“Well, I don’t want to bore you with the details,” Brother Mensel said.
“He would,” Nunzio said pulling up his horse and nodding at SoQue.
Chase looked back and noticed Jin had ridden in close behind the three of them and was listening in on the conversation.
“Well,” Mensel went on. “Although there was great interest in the bridge and the city when it was discovered years ago because it was so fantastic that it had to have been created by the Gods, further analysis proved this to be incorrect.”
Nunzio snorted from in front them.
“Careful examination revealed that the bridge itself was a masterful construction, but only that. Each piece of rock was cut to near perfection and laid in place with unparalleled precision. It appears the whole structure was made from just one large piece of granite.”
“The land used to be joined here,” Nunzio said in a strange, haughty voice. “Until the Gods came and split the island away from the land and left the bridge behind.”
“Exactly the kind of thinking that led to the massive population build-up here. But even the ancient quarry where the granite had been mined some 40 leagues from here has recently been discovered.”
“A quarry forty leagues away sent the rock to make this bridge?” Chase asked.
“Fantastic, isn’t it?” Mensel responded considering the span. “But, given enough time, expertise, and manpower, this is a thing created by the living, not the immortal.”
They had ridden halfway down the hill and could make out the features of the bridge in better detail. Chase saw seagulls flying high around the bridge, concentrated at the central point in the span, the point on the bridge where the city was most concentrated.
Chase noticed some ropes or wires, which hung off of the bridge itself and ran from this side of the bridge all the way to the island on the far side. He squinted to try to see what the lines were for and thought he saw something hanging from the lines on the island side.
“What is that?” Chase asked leaning over toward SoQue.
“What?” SoQue asked unsure of what Chase was pointing at.
“Those lines, ropes, whatever. They seem to be connected to the side of bridge and run from this side to the island.”
“Oh, the carriage,” SoQue responded. “You don’t remember it? It has been here for many years.”
“Carriage?” Nunzio asked before Chase could.
“Yeah,” SoQue said. “It was built to convey the, uh, high class people from this side to the island without having to withstand the city on the bridge.”
“Priests mostly. And Mages,” Mensel said.
“There are no rich merchants or tradesmen in Pilaster itself,” SoQue said.
“It was a vain holy man or wizard who had the carriage built. The wires are strengthened by magic, but the conveyance itself is very mundane,” Brother Mensel added.
“There is a station on the island that where the lines run,” SoQue explained. “In the station there are horses tied to a large wheel which, when turned, pulls the carriage from one end to the other. Mensel is right, it is quite commonplace, although I understand the gearing is quite an engineering accomplishment.”
“It goes to the undercity too,” Jin said.
Chase’s head snapped around and he pulled his horse to a quick stop.
“What did you say?” Chase asked sharply.
Jin pulled up her own horse, as did the rest of party.
“What did you just say?” Chase demanded. It felt as if pins were beginning to needle their way through the hair in the back of his head and enter his mind.
Jin looked confused. Chase urged his horse up so that he was close to her.
“Tell me what you just said,” Chase said again.
“I don’t know what the fuck is wrong with you,” Jin said, turning angry. “But I hope you get over it pretty damn quickly by the Gods.”
Chase reached out and grabbed her arm.
“Just tell me.”
“Chase, stop,” SoQue said.
“The carriage goes to the undercity,” Jin said.
“What is the undercity?” Chase asked pulling her even closer.
“Let go of me!” Jin demanded pulling her arm away.
Chase complied but the needles pricked and stung his mind. He knew the undercity. He knew the undercity was important.
Chase turned his horse and started back down the road. No one spoke for several minutes and everyone held back, following Chase.
SoQue finally ventured forward after a time. His horse actually nudged into Chase’s as he rode up to talk to Chase.
“Sorry about that,” SoQue said.
Chase looked over at him.
“What was that all about with Jin?” SoQue asked.
“What’s the undercity?” Chase asked him
“There is supposed to be a city under Pilaster, the undercity.”
“I don’t know. I never, well, the undercity isn’t the kind of place that I would go,” SoQue said.
“It is the kind of place I would go,” Chase said.
“Probably,” SoQue nodded. “It is likely that the city exists, but how one would get to the city, I have no idea.”
They were closing in on the entrance to the bridge itself. Chase continued to ride straight on toward the bridge when Nunzio rode up.
“We need to leave the horses,” he said to Chase.
“Why?” Chase asked.
“We can take them to the bridge city but it will cost a lot less to keep them there,” Nunzio said.
“And there are no horses allowed in Pilaster,” SoQue added.
Nunzio indicated a large collection of horse stalls and buildings on the left hand side of the bridge entrance. Chase spurred his horse and rode toward it anxious to be on to the bridge city.
The rest of the group rode up and dismounted as a teenage boy walked out and spoke to Chase.
“Five?” he asked.
“Yes, five horses,” Chase responded.
The boy pulled out a beaten copper medallion out of a pouch at his side and touched each of the horses with it. He then walked back to Chase and handed him the medallion.
“What is the fee?” Chase asked as the boy walked away and some others came out to seize the horses.
“Two gold per horse per week,” he mumbled as he walked away.
Chase pulled what belongings he needed from his horse and turned back toward the bridge. He waited until the others were ready and then walked back toward the entrance to the bridge.
In short order they were gathered behind him and they all made their way down to the bridge. The road from the hill turned from dirt into marble a few feet from the edge of the bridge and they wandered from the road onto the structure.
Chase focused on the city ahead. There were several tall structures, maybe three or four stories high. The whole central portion of the bridge seemed to be one massive building. Chase thought back to the hive of Hillrock, but this was different. These buildings seemed to balance each other instead of just hang off of the next.
“It is a wonder they don’t all fall,” Chase said quietly.
Again SoQue had walked up close behind and caught his words.
“For the shanty town that it is, there is actually remarkable engineering that went into it.”
“Sheds on a bridge,” Chase said.
“With indoor plumbing, clean drinking water, food distribution and a surprisingly low mortality rate,” SoQue supplied.
They continued to walk toward the conflagration of buildings and Chase could see no reason to their placement or size. But he did recognize some of the structures. There was the Tavern on the Side, next to Old Idl’s shop. Across the way was the Seven Gables, an inn with a nicer reputation, and a much more sinister clientele.
Chase smiled, he almost felt like this was a homecoming. At lease he was recognizing some of the buildings. He knew he had to have spent some time in the place in the past.
Hastening his pace, Chase was anxious to reach the city now. Perhaps here, he thought, some answers would present themselves.
The group reached the outskirts of the city on the bridge about a mile from the landmass they had left behind. There were several smaller structures here with vendors hawking their wares.
Chase pressed on into the bulk of the city.
“This city hangs on the bridge,” Chase commented to no one in particular.
“And under her,” Nunzio commented.
“There used to be no rhyme or reason to the structures on the bridge,” Mensel began. “But the powerful in Pilistar began to see how this city could be used to service her. And they began to regulate the construction of the city. They brought in a means of clean water and a way to get rid of the waste.”
“Toss it over the side,” Nunzio chuckled.
Chase smiled and turned to look at Nunzio, but Nunzio was glancing away. Chase wondered why that particular term had rung a bell in his mind.
“Toss it over the side,” Chase repeated.
Chase chuckled and turned, heading toward the eastern edge of the bridge, toward something he knew he had to go to.
“Where are we going?” SoQue asked, touching Chase’s shoulder.
“Over there,” Chase responded.
“We should stay there if we are planning on spending the night on the bridge,” SoQue said, indicated the Four Arms Lodge. It was one of the larger structures on the bridge; it stood tall and hung off the side of the bridge. It also seemed to extend below the surface of the bridge itself.
“No,” Chase said. All of the pain he had recently felt was gone and now he was experiencing a sense of euphoria.
“I know where to go,” he continued. “We need to go over there.”
Chase began to walk away feeling as if he had spent the morning drinking. But he did not stumble or stagger just smiled and wandered toward another smaller tavern that was on the east side of the bridge.
“Chase, wait a minute,” SoQue said scrambling up to catch him.
“What?” Chase asked
“Let’s just stay at the Fours Arms; we can look into this place tomorrow?”
Chase looked him in the eyes, but was unable to focus cleanly. He felt a slight pinch somewhere in the middle of his brain as he tried to focus on the eyes of SoQue.
“No,” was all he said as he looked back behind SoQue. Mensel, Nunzio and Jin stood in the middle of the roadway waiting for him to lead them. Waiting for him to lead. To lead them.
“I am your leader,” Chase said, very quietly as he turned back toward the small building.
“Chase, I really don’t think,” SoQue began as Chase wandered away from him.
He walked several more paces, the pinch in his mind crimped into an unscratchable pain but Chase tried to ignore it. He caught some slight movement off to his right. It was a quick movement, something other than the normal here and there activity that the rest of the dezins of this city were accustomed to.
Chase stopped and turned back, looking for Nunzio. Nunzio caught his glance and walked up.
“Did you see that?” Chase asked.
“Missed it,” Nunzio responded. “But we should get out of here. I hear this isn’t the side of the bridge you want to be on.”
Chase passed off his sighting to nerves, smiled at Nunzio to reassure him and turned back toward the building.
As he took his next steps the door of the structure he was walking toward opened and a large man walked out from the front door.
Chase’s left leg stopped in mid-air as he caught sight of the figure and he nearly fell to the ground, unable to make his leg complete it’s navigation to the ground. His breath left him instantly as his eyes focused on the man in the gray cloak.
“Get. Back,” was all Chase could offer to his companions before his throat became completely dry and he was unable to speak any more.
He was finally able to gain his footing and was moving his arms across his body to draw his blades when the man who had emerged from the building shrugged his cloak away from his body and smiled.
“Chase,” he said. “You’re punctual at least.”
Chase’s arms froze, crossed in front of his chest. He could no longer do anything but stare at the figure in front of him. He tried to croak out the man’s name, the name that now seemed burned on his brain, but even that he could not do.
Nunzio moved in front of Chase drawing his blade. Chase heard a buzzing in his ears but could not turn his focus from the man in front of him.
“You brought friends,” the man said. “Excellent, let us test your game.”
Nunzio took the bait and moved it. He must have sensed that this was an opponent that had to be dealt with quickly and tried a number of daring strikes toward the head and heart, but the man was able to deflect them.
Chase’s gaze never left the man’s as he fought Nunzio. Chase knew Nunzio would die.
And even then the man’s eye’s seemed to gleam and bore into Chase as he finally turned from the defensive to the offensive and cut Nunzio down in short order.
As Nunzio dropped in front of him, Chase’s instincts kicked in and his legs kicked out moving him away from the still falling body of Nunzio.
The swordfighter moved passed Nunzio toward Chase.
Chase pushed through SoQue and Jin, whom he realized, only now that they were next to him, talking to him. He stumbled and fell as SoQue and Jin came together shoulder to shoulder to guard him.
Chase tried to tell them “No.”
But there was no time. The warrior approached and instantly SoQue was down on the hard marble of the bridge, bleeding from the neck and chest.
Jin darted away and tossed several daggers at the killer as he moved, relentlessly toward Chase. But then she darted into him, attempting to attack him while his focus was on Chase and she was to his rear.
The swordsman never turned, never changed expressions. Remaining totally focused on Chase he cut Jin nearly in two as she tried to stab him from behind.
Finally Chase was able to look away from the figure of Death as it approached and he saw Jin fall behind him. He long hair buffeted in the wind as she fell in parts to the surface below. Her head bounced high off the hard road and then cracked down again.
Something broke his line of focus and Chase was forced to look away from Jin.
Chase looked up and saw him standing a few paces away. Something deep within made Chase breath, and breath deeply and he was finally able to release his arms and rise.
He gulped deeply and flexed his shoulders. Chase forced his focused once again behind the warrior and saw his three companions dead, cut down for him.
Chase turned his eyes on the man who had killed his friends.
“Braenor,” he said reaching for his weapons.
“Chase, my friend,” Braenor said smiling.
Braenor took a step toward Chase.
Chase tried to move but again his mind and instincts failed him. Chase knew that he was dead, that Braenor would kill him, that was all Braenor wanted, to kill Chase.
Chase felt his nerves beginning to solidify again as Braenor moved toward him, but he was able to force movement.
Turning toward the edge of the bridge, Chase ran. As the edge welled up before him he dropped his un-bloodied blades and dove over the side.
Miles below, the water hurried to greet him.