Tooks didn’t stop at the Maiden’s Tear beforehand; he wanted to be sharp. He certainly wasn’t stupid enough — or drunk enough — to try simply walking out one of the city gates like the last time. And he definitely wasn’t enough of a disbeliever to flirt with blasphemy by sneaking out amongst one of the long lines of Seekers bound for Ulmari. But he was desperate enough for the Gasp.
Not all of the sewers beneath Baycloak boasted the roomy grandeur of the Tabernacle. Some were nothing more than narrow pipes, spilling their fetid contents into the bay, or the moat formed around the city by the Ralladan River, both of which forced the conjurers out on a regular basis to cleanse the water lest the city reek of dung. But there was one just nearly wide enough for a man to squeeze through, so the rumors said, one that ran all the way out of Baycloak. Of course, no one had ever made it all the way through without becoming overwhelmed by the stench within. Most came right back out again after only a few minutes, gagging and vomiting and vowing to lead better lives than before. Some, it was said, never came back out at all. Malkin’s men would never think to guard it, what with the only outcomes being failure or death. But with the only other option being an infinitely far worse and lingering fate at the hands of Banner Malkin, Tooks’ suddenly didn’t find the Gasp all that bad a prospect.
Well past halfnight, Tooks stood before the filth-encrusted opening to the Gasp. The odor of it had hit his nose well before he saw it, and already his throat was closing as he stared into the black hole before him. Judging from where the entrance was located, at least a mile of that vile darkness lay between him and the river. It would feel like a lifetime. And might very well be one.
He took a deep breath and immediately regretted it. The smell roiled his stomach almost instantly, his decision not to eat anything seeming no better than had he stuffed himself full; he’d have just been bringing up gobs of food instead of empty dry heaves right now. His legs wobbled, and for the briefest of moments, he considered throwing himself on Malkin’s mercy, perhaps earning a quick death rather than the long, slow one that no doubt awaited him. But no. Malkin would be more angry over Tooks’ attempt to flee than at his inability to pay, and would take great pleasure in extending Tooks’ agony long enough to send a suitable message to anyone contemplating a similar scheme. The quicker end waited within the Gasp.
Tooks tried to breathe through his mouth to keep the smell out of his nose. But it crept up there like some living thing, a gnat he couldn’t swat away. His eyes watered as he clambered up to the opening of the Gasp, slick with something Tooks did not want to spend a second thought speculating on. Ahead of him, the tunnel darkened to gray then black, then pitch as the dead of night. He swallowed hard, fighting to keep the bile down. “I’m a gods damned fool,” he muttered, and began crawling.
He couldn’t tell how much time passed, accompanied by nothing but his own ragged breath and the churning, sloshing sound of his movements through the muck. He lost count of how many times he vomited along the way, and his throat burned both from his violent heaves and his heavy breathing. He could see nothing, and the sounds he made echoed oddly in the round pipe, so he could think of nothing save the ghosts of those who had met their ends where he now crawled. He became stuck once, as the pipe narrowed for no discernible reason, closing in on him like a foul embrace. He screamed and cried and begged and pleaded, and finally, with a sickening wet pop, he slid free and fell face first into the goopy horror all around him. His entire world became nothing but smelly, echoing darkness, first one hand, then a knee, then the others, over and over. More than once he thought himself already dead, and consigned to some hell worse than anything the High Seeker had preached about when his mother had dragged Tooks and his brothers to temple. But then the tiniest speck of light appeared in the distance, and grew larger as Tooks found strength in his limbs he’d thought long since gone. A faint breeze, the most beautiful movement of air Tooks had ever felt, wafted towards him from the light, along with the distant sound of running water. He forgot about the smells and the sounds and the horrible clinging grime that covered him, the circle of daylight becoming bigger and bigger, a sun rising out of his terrible night. And so it was that, with a surprised whoop, Tooks slipped free of the Gasp and plunged into the Ralladan, washed clean of his filth, if not his sins.