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The City Under the Bridge

- Laura J. Underwood

When Anwyn Baldomyre stumbled upon Stonegorge, he was fascinated to find an entire city built under a bridge.  But the moment he stepped under its tall arches seeking shelter for the night, he knew something was amiss. Stonegorge was being ravaged by the rising river that threatened to wash its foundations away, as well as a frightening creature the locals call The Water Lady, a creature who drowns men on dry land.

Soon, the river will tear out the foundations of the bridge if nothing is done. So Anwyn embarks on solving the mystery of the Water Lady and seeing what he can do to help the folk who live at the base of the bridge known as The Depths. But there are those who would just as soon the Harper Mage not learn the truth, for that would spoil their plans to run those who dwell in The Depths from their homes and put the wealth of Stonegorge into their own pockets.

But silver eyes and a golden voice and magic songs may not be enough to save The City Under the Bridge unless Anwyn can solve the riddles buried in Stonegorge itself.

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ONE

The sight of the gorge dropping several hundred meters to the rushing river below took Anwyn Baldomyre’s breath away. He had heard the thunder of the water well before he crested the rise in the mountain road, but the magnitude of the sound had not prepared him. What lay before him now was so visually stunning, he faltered in his steps.

“Lords and Ladies, Glynnanis, will you look at that,” he said.

:Water, the harp sang in Anwyn’s head, and one note chimed like a rude snort. :I prefer not to, thank you.

Anwyn shook his head and smiled. For a creature that had complained about being kept hidden in the dungeons of Far Reach for so long, Glynnanis showed little interest in the natural wonders Anwyn had encountered on his travels through Lamboria.

He sighed and peered across the gorge. “I can’t see the other side.”

Indeed, a mist as thick as wood smoke hovered over the rim, moving like a crowd of ghosts and making it impossible to tell how high or low the other side might be. By the Four, I must be up in the clouds! Alas that meant he did not dare risk using his Gate Song to cross the gorge, not without a clear view of the other side. Rhystar of Far Reach had warned Anwyn the magic song would only safely take the harper some place he had already been, or some place he could see for himself. And since Anwyn could not use each of his magic songs more than once a day, he was not eager to waste this one, much less risk his life.

The road, he noticed, followed this side of the gorge. Perhaps it would lead to a way across as well.

Only one way I’ll ever find out.

:We’re going on? Glynnanis asked.

“I’ve no desire to go back,” Anwyn said. Behind him lay a village he knew would no longer welcome one of silver eyes, even if he had used his limited magic to do them good service. The farther he got from Nymbaria’s borders, the more superstitions he found. He glanced at the unicorn head carved from white wood. Glynnanis was eyeing the edge to their right.

:Then please walk a little closer to the left, the harp said. :You know I have no fondness for heights...or water.

“You have no fondness for anything, I think,” Anwyn said with a chuckle then moved that way.

The road stayed on the edge of the cliffs and even began to descend into the gorge. Soon, the cliffs rose like the walls of a great castle, blocking the late afternoon light and plunging the world into bluish shadows. Dark always came earlier to these mountains when one was not atop their snow-clad peaks.

I shall have to find shelter soon, Anwyn thought. The wind that rushed up from the depths of the gorge whipped his cloak into ill-mannered wings and lashed his face with strands of his own hair. It would be impossible to camp in this wind, for no ordinary fire would last.

:Then you should make a magical one, Glynnanis scolded.

“And waste another spell song?” Anwyn retorted. “I’m trying to live as I should, without magic, Glynnanis.”

:It is foolish to be so frugal with magic, just because you have not made your sacrifice.

Here we go again. Anwyn rolled his eyes and sighed. The one song that never changed was the harp’s constant nagging about Anwyn’s refusal to make the sacrifice that would release his power.

:You have great potential, Glynnanis said. :Why do you waste your skill? You should use your magic. It will teach you to handle it better, and teach you to love it. And eventually, to make the sacrifice that will release your fullest potential as one of the great magister like Rhystar.

Anwyn frowned and hoped to swiftly find a cave before the temptation to drop Glynnanis in the gorge grew any stronger. But then guilt tightened his gut and banished the thought. Rhystar had made the harp for another who died. He had gifted the harp on Anwyn when his own was burned by the fire wraith that once tortured him.

Anwyn shook those dark memories away, for the road ahead seemed to have no end. As he walked on, watching the shadows grow longer, he saw the gorge bent like an elbow. And as he rounded that turn, he froze.

The gorge widened out ahead, and in that gap, someone had built a massive stone bridge. But it was no ordinary crossing. Its topmost part was a single arch with twin towers and what looked like an opulent palace standing in the middle. He could make out gatehouses and stables and garrisons at each end. Below the span, he saw structures that must have been grand houses or temples, and in the sections below those stood tier upon tier of buildings filling the space from the top to the bottom of the narrowing gorge. In fact, the lower he looked, the more dense and solid the arches and layers were filled. While the structures above were stone and timber, and very lovely, all those below were made of mortared stone and had colorful slate roofs. Many looked as though they had been crammed in haphazardly to form a city gone mad. Tinier and tinier they became until at the very bottom he could see the river boiling out from underneath it all.

“Lords and Ladies,” Anwyn exclaimed. To his wonder, a number of people were going about their daily lives, moving in and out of streets barely wide enough to admit a single horse, hanging out of windows and off balconies to shout at one another above the roar of the water. Here and there were terraced patchworks of green where gardens had been coaxed to life. Lanterns that resisted the guttering effect of the fierce wind churned up by the water were being lit along the edges. Laundry flapped in the updraft, like giant birds about to take flight. A warm glow not unlike the first dance of fireflies began to fill the gorge.

“What a wonder this is,” Anwyn said. “I hope we can find an inn...”

:You propose to sleep in that damp, dismal place? the harp retorted. :Are you truly so eager to warp me?

“Oh, Glynnanis, where is your sense of adventure? And anyway, it doesn’t look all that dismal.”

:My sense of adventure tells me to stay well away from water, Glynnanis said. :And I sense magic here, ancient magic and ill intentions. We should not linger.

“I sense nothing,” Anwyn said. “I think you’re just in one of your grumpy moods. Rhystar will be envious when I tell him of this place.”

:Clearly you and I have different ideas of adventure, the harp said.

Anwyn shook his head and hurried on. Shelter for the night. A sanctuary against wind and water and wolves and bears.

Still, he would make certain Glynnanis was well wrapped.

Just to be safe...

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