Continued from Part Four
Ristdex / Index Page
Rist scratched his red-pocked scalp and tried to untangle several strands of straggly black hair. He started getting nervous. For the fifteenth time he reached into his belt-pouch to feel the dull weight of the foil-wrapped packet he had acquired from the Veil-lady just like he had been asked. He was a professional and one did what they had to do in order to stay in business. He picked out a reasonable spot to wait and hunkered down to watch for the dark lady to come back. All that was left now was to pass the shiny-shiny along to the lady-client. She may have scared the piss out of him, but she had given him a job to do and Rist had done it. He prided himself on being a dependable agent. He might be small, even frail, but he took immense pride in his work.
Rist sniffed, seeking some olfactory clue to the arrival of his client. Her absence worried him, but then so did most things. Especially people who were bigger, faster or stronger than he was, which included nearly everyone Rist had ever met and the dark lady even moreso. It was precisely this persistent fear, what Rist might have laughingly referred to as professional paranoia had he the language or conceptual framework, that had kept him alive all these years. Suddenly his yellow eyes narrowed and the slit-pupils widened as his heat-sensing pits flared just below each eye as something, or rather someone, moved down below him, on the ruined esplanade. Whomever they were they had emerged from one of the garbage-piled gaps between the pillars of the Empty Temple. No one went into that place. For as long as Rist could recall or imagine, no one ever went into the Empty Temple and now, right before his very eyes, someone had come out of it. He wasn’t sure what kind of omen that was but he knew it couldn’t be good. For all intents and purposes the Empty Temple was haunted and cursed, a lair of ghosts, plague-spirits and other lingering evils from the time of the Severing. Everyone knew to avoid the Empty Temple. Nothing good ever came out of that place.
Rist may not have been the smartest inhabitant of the lower precincts, but just the same he had survived for over six years all on his own. Like most his kind, Rist had been thrust out of the family nest upon reaching the age of expulsion, roughly around the time he had been able to walk upright. He had survived and even thrived in the midst of the roughest, most dangerous precincts of Talibarr and it certainly wasn’t on account of his cheerful disposition or good looks. By all accounts Rist was homely, even for a drijj. Rist was a survivor. He could sense danger the way some animals could smell changes in the weather. When you can’t out-fight the local predators, you’re smaller than the majority of your peers and weaker than the scavengers you either learn how to be smarter, trickier or more cunning than they all are or you wind up feeding one of them. Rist wasn’t a genius, not by a long shot, but he was clever and better than that he was ruthless, a true product of his social environment.
Claws and teeth are all well and fine if you have them, and Rist’s dainty, dirty nails were well-suited to digging, climbing and precise manipulation, but they wouldn’t ever scare anyone, let alone serve as any kind of weapon. That’s why he still carried the first knife he ever owned, a gift from the D’phinn Fakir who suspended himself on cables and chains in the middle of a pool down past the merchant-pavilions lining the Botanica-Souk and the Wet Wharves at the fringes of the Low Zones. Rist, like many who lived hand to mouth existences in the brutal environs of the Low Zones admired the Fakir and vied with the others to bring him a suitable gift in order to earn a knife from amongst his impressive collection that hovered all around him like a swarm of telekinetic bees drawn to spiritual nectar.
Two years previously Rist had not only earned a knife from the Fakir, he had learned about poison from eavesdropping on a conversation amongst a group of dusty caravan-merchants from Jandalligon. Poison sounded like just the thing to help Rist gain a much needed edge in terms of his continued personal survival. He sought out any and everyone he could find who would tell him anything about poisons including a ceremonially blinded Ketanjin biorepentive-heretic who had foresworn its cultural, ancestral and genetic heritage as a living Venefice and who told Rist all about the ways of poison for a few scraps of raw meat and a half-gallon of j’reza-mint flavored grain alcohol that the little drijj had stolen from a drowsy merchant’s ill-guarded stocks. In addition to the simplest knowledge of poisons and some smatterings of street-astrology Rist had discovered the crudest and most basic fundamentals of distillation and concentration. It never occurred to him that, for a creature rarely able to remember what had happened an hour ago, it was remarkable that he retained this ill-gotten knowledge still. But things like that rarely, if ever occurred to the little drijj.
After a few weeks of clumsy, sometimes disastrous efforts that had inadvertently poisoned everything around his conspicuously hidden lair, Rist had finally been able to produce and then insert a small vial of concentrated canal-spider venom into the hollowed-out handle of his knife. It was a potent paralytic and Rist had found that the stuff really made it a lot easier to pilfer small shiny bits when his victims were conveniently incapacitated. It had also allowed him to escape from the crows on more than one occasion.
All told it had taken the better part of a month to capture and raise a clutch of spiders from a stray egg sac Rist had been able to make off with after a particularly fierce summertime thunderstorm. For a couple of quiet weeks Rist had nursed the egg sac until it had burst and a flood of tiny spiders had spilled out into the oversized jug he had salvaged from one of the abandoned shops along the old upper tier of streets overlooking the canals. For another week Rist had excitedly, expectantly fed crickets and other small insects into the mouth of the jug, after shaking it vigorously so that none of the spiders could escape. They grew bigger as they drained the crickets or preyed upon each other. Rist watched the number of spiders dwindle even as they grew progressively bigger. When they had finally gotten big enough Rist drowned the spiders with his own urine that he had filled another bottle with just for the occasion. Even Rist wasn’t foolish enough to try and pee on a bottle full of spiders. Then he set the jug of piss-soaked spiders out into the sunlight for the better part of another week, stirring them up with a length of corroded metal wire until the spiders had broken down into a gooey slop that Rist continued to reduce by leaving it exposed to the hot sunlight, letting it cook down into a nasty, sticky ooze that paralyzed or killed everything he spattered with it. Carefully, delicately Rist had poured off a good measure of the contents of the large jug into smaller bottles and vials so that he could more easily make use of the poison, only it had proven too good and anything he killed with it was likewise poison to anything that tried to eat it, like Rist himself. He tried to use the sticky poisons in a set of traps, but that hadn’t really worked out. He carried the last of the stuff for use as a last-ditch form of self-defense. But he hadn’t tried it out yet so he wasn’t sure how it would work and hoped, and sometimes prayed, that he wouldn’t need to ever find out.
This moment, however, seemed just like a last-ditch sort of time in the making so Rist prepared to make use of the poison, either to kill whatever was coming up towards him from the Empty Temple, or to ruin anyone’s chances of tormenting him any more. He’d finally had enough. His tiny brain was rapidly adapting to the stimulus in his immediate environment and was beginning to develop more synapses, more connections, more processing capacity. Though he had no idea of what was happening, Rist was getting his wish without the dark lady’s help. He was getting smarter.
He slid down a little and let the ferns cover his position while his mind replayed a memory for him. Back when he had been playing with his bottles and the spiders a pack of feral children had found the place not long after he had concocted his poison and several of them died after casually smashing the glassware Rist had used in his brewing. They had burned the place out after that, thinking it a cursed spot. All that wonderful glassware, lost. But at least several of the feral children had died and they had moved farther down the esplanade from where Rist had found his new perch. It occurred to Rist that if he were to spread the poison out on the ground before him, that whomever stepped into it would die just like the feral children had. Except what if they had boots like the dark lady wore?
Rist drew his special knife and slithered over so he could crouch down behind a massive chunk of schist that had fallen from the facade of the burned-out building he was lurking in front of. The one hundred and seven little trinkets and charms carved from rat vertebrae and other less identifiable debris that dangled from the rags he called clothes clicked and clacked softly in the fetid night breeze. Like most denizens of the Lower Precincts of Talibarr, Rist wasn’t particularly religious so much as opportunistically pragmatic; priests often rewarded the diligent and respectful with food or other things if they believed you were of their faith. Rist liked faith; it put meat in the belly a lot easier than his knife could, some days.
"Not good, not good at all. Rist no like this." He muttered to himself as he kept watch on the pitted ramp leading up from the level below, the most likely direction someone coming from the Empty Temple might approach his position. He’d mumble a prayer but he was illiterate and unschooled in such things and lacked any hope that his whining would amount to much that would move anyone to help him in the afterlife any more than it would here and now. Instead he made the sign of the seven-pointed star and hoped that there were angels, demons or gods out there who would take pity on a lowly drijj like himself. Rist liked pity; it made strong people leave dirty little things like him alone.
To Be Continued...