Chapter One: Meetingsp<. Nilled slowly massaged his hands, leaning against a table as he rubbed the sore callus that covered his palm. He used his nails to pick off some skin that had started to peel, rolling it into a little ball and flicking it into the pile of dust he’d been sleeping. He examined the rest of the hall, his eyes wandering from table to table, pausing briefly to survey the bar, and then back to his broom. It was a clean place, at least as clean as a remolded sewer tank could get. He’d done a decent job; as had his master before him, of keeping this place clean enough to eat in. Still, a name like ‘The Rats Hole’ was befitting of the place, which usually smelled faintly of sewage and ripening cheese. Today it wasn’t that bad. The smell of roasting octopi and Bathord brewing another batch of Mossgrass ale managed to cover up most of the smells that managed to wander in from the pipeline outside. He sighed to himself and swept up the dust into his bin, and the placed his broom in after it. He hefted it over to the cleaning cupboard and set inside, tossing his cleaning apron across the rim. Opening up a drawer, he pulled out a belted pouch and strapped it around his waist. Then he pulled out a small leather bound book and closed the drawer. He stepped out and closed the cupboard, and walked over to the bar were he called out. “Bathord, I’m done with the morning rounds, so I’m off till this afternoon.” There was a great commotion in the kitchen and Nilled began to wonder if he’d have to clean something greasy up when he got back, when Bathord shoved himself out of the kitchen. Wiping his hands off on his apron he walked over to Nilled, smiling. He was a hearty man, heavy and fat enough to keep himself happy but with enough muscle to be mistaken as a bouncer. He pulled out a block of cheese and a clump of dried mushrooms, Browncaps, and handed them to Nilled. “That’s great.” His voice was the rumbling of distant thunder, deep and happy. “Here’s a little something for your lunch.” Nilled examined the food in his hand and was surprised to find a bright yellow Buttercap mixed in with the Browncaps. He held it up for Bathord to see. “Looks like you grabbed this on accident.” He tried to hand it back, but Bathord shook his head. “Enjoy it! Lazarus knows you need something fattening or you’ll die the instant a famine hits.” He reached across the bar and tapped Nilled in the chest. “You’re skinnier than a length of Dragon Spine!” He chuckled as Nilled scowled back at him. He was slim, but not that skinny. He was at least strong enough to carry a full barrel of ale, and hold his own in the tunnels, though he couldn’t throw a punch worth half a Pica. “Alright, if you insist.” He wrapped the food in his handkerchief and stuck it in his pouch. “Like I said, it’s alright, but when you get back, I’ll need you to fix the radio. Damn things been acting up again, and I’d like to be able to listening this afternoon sermons without walking all the way down to the service halls.” Nilled nodded silently, he’d check the wiring later, though he’d have to stop by Jebeddos’ or Nafes’ stalls and see if they managed to salvage some extra wiring; he was running out. “Alright, well I’ll be back later then.” He turned and started walking out. “Could you prop the doors open on the way out and put the ‘open’ sign in place as you leave?” Nilled raised his hand in acknowledgement.
~ p<. There were a surprising number of people in the market place that day, almost too many to work with, but not quite. She counted the coins she’d managed to cut from a couple of purses. This had proved to be a very fruitful morning. She dropped the coins into the pocket and looked down into the crowd in search of another target. She spotted some one pushing their way through the traffic of people, still in the pipeway just outside the giant septic tank that made up most of the marketplace. He was going to pass right by a stack of storage crates. A nice and shadowy spot, were she’d be free to thrift him. Standing, she slinked off, gliding down the wall and through the crowd like a shadow. She slipped through the sea of bodies easily, passing like a breeze of air. Ducking under a merchants’ booth, she rolled into the shadows and slipped between the crates. She crouched down as her breath fell silent and her heart quieted to a slow, steady, pace. She followed her targets shadow across the cobblestone pipeway, her muscle tense, her pupils dilated. Six steps. Four steps. Two steps. One step. She pounced, and struck her arm out in the same instant. Wrapping her arm around his waste, she slipped her hand over his mouth and pulled him into the shadows. She’d timed it perfectly, and any one in the crowd who noticed and glanced over saw only an empty block of air. She spun her victim around, slamming him into the crates, where she pressed her forearm against his chest and pressed her knife against his throat. “You move, and you bleed.” Her voice was sharper than her blade, which was a rusty thing. But the man felt its serrated edge and it convince him to be still. Lifting her forearm, she started searching through his pockets, and then raided his belt pouch, removing a bunch of tools, and what felt like some wrapped food. “You now you don’t have to do this. You can have the food and stuff. I’ll just leave and leave you with it.” She pressed her knife more firmly against his throat. “Quiet, or I’ll cut you. Slowly.” He moved his head back, away from the edge of the blade. Turning his head to the side he became illuminated by a beam of light, and his attacker gasped as she saw his face. “Niled!” She squealed in delight and leapt upon him, wrapping her arms and legs around him, gripping him tightly in a fierce hug, knife still in hand. “Oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t know it was you, I was about to mug you! Oh, I’m so happy to see you!” She pressed her face against his chest, rubbing her cheek into the rags and stitches that served as his shirt. “Avian!” Nilled was in shock for a few moments as his ‘attacker’ continued to hug and nuzzle him and squeal in delight. “Wait, what are you doing here? I thought you were in the lower levels!” She hopped off him, and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. “Was, but not anymore. I got bored down there. I mean sure there’s plenty to eat and all, but it’s too easy to steal. Speaking of which, whatcha got in the bag?” Before he could stop her, Avian crouched over and opened his handkerchief and started picking through his lunch. “Oh! A Buttercap!” She picked the small yellow mushroom out from amongst the dried Browncaps and the lump of cheese. “Hey! Don-“ He couldn’t finish before she took a bite of it, sinking her small, white, teeth into its’ sweet, buttery, flesh. She chewed the bite for a while, eyes closed enjoying the flavor. “Mmh! It so sweet! And it’s still moist too! It must be a fresh one! Nilled you have to try some, it’s good!” Nilled felt like he’d burst an artery, that was his Buttercap, and he only got them rarely; after all they were very expensive. “Have some? It’s mine; I should have had it all! First you almost cut my throat and now you steal my Buttercap! Hey, wait, don’t take another bite!” She’d placed the cap back into her mouth, but now she just held it between her lips. She tilted her head to the side and smiled slightly, amused at Nilleds’ anger. She managed to get out a sentence around the Buttercap. “But you’re not going to eat it, you’re too busy yelling at me.” Her smiled broadened as he scowled at her. “How do expect me to eat any of it, when you have it in your mouth right now?” Avian’s face popped into an expression of surprise, and she glanced down at the mushroom sitting between her teeth. “Oh, well that not a problem.” Mushroom still between her lips, she pressed her face close to his, grabbing his forearm for support as she rose onto her toes. “See,” her breathe was hot and moist against his face, and carried the honey-sweet scent of the Buttercup with each words she let slip from her lips. “You can just take a bite right out of my mouth.” She closed her eyes slightly and inched closer to his face. Nilled freaked, his face turning crimson as he watched her slowly press closer. Avia-wai-wha-Stop!” He moved to push her off him but she was already a step away, laughing in bursts of giggles. ‘Relax, I was just messing with you, and besides I’m not into younger guys.” She giggled again, and tossed the Buttercup into her mouth, chewing it with a look of ecstasy on her face as she slowly enjoyed the flavor. Nilled didn’t even notice as he burst into a series of angry words. “I’m not that young, I’m sixteen, that’s old enough to be a Guardsmen of Lazarus, or open my own tavern!” Avian looked at him with an expression of pity. Sighing, she placed her hand on top of his hair and forced him down to her level. “Yeah, but I’ve been old enough to do those things for thirty years!” She tossed a tassel of her hair aside, and pulled on the tip of her long pointed ears, bringing it to Nilleds attention. “Elf, remember. I was thirty four when you were a new born back at the old Orphanage!” She released his hair and let go of her ear. Turning, she looked into the crowd. It had grown significantly in numbers. “Thirty years is a big difference to me, and especially to those of Man. Age besides, you’re not my type, and you never will be.” She turned back to him and hugged him again. “But it’s really good to see you! Really, it is. And you’ve grown.” She looked up at him; he was a lot taller, finally taller than her. So much taller that he made her feel short just standing there! “But I think we should get moving. It looks like something interesting is happening and I don’t want to miss anything. Also, this is one of the best workdays I’ve had in a long while.” She moved away, sliding along the wall towards the edge of the crates. Nilled crouched down onto his knee and wrapped his food back into the cloth and was about to shove it into his pouch when he stopped to think for a second. “Wait a second. Where’s the rest of my Buttercap?” Suddenly Avian bolted over to him, and grabbed him by his wrist. Pulling him to his feet, she dragged him with her as she darted out from the cover of the crates. “Woah, wait! Avian! What is it?” She pulled him through the crowd, darting and dodging through people, making her way over to one of the sewage-falls that roared out of the piping, down into a draining pool. She stopped once the reached it, only to start to climbing, scaling the walls with agile ease. She came to perch on one of the minor pipes and looked back down at Nilled, who stood in puzzlement. “Come on! Get up here!” She motioned for him to climb. “Avian, what’s going on?” She didn’t answer, just made a more frantic motion as she encouraged him to climb. Nilled sighed, and tried to lift himself on to the pipes. He managed to get a grip and got a few feet of the ground before he slipped on a patch of mold growing on the pipes. Slipping, he fell onto his back with a dull thud. He heard Avian giggling as he got up, and rolled his eyes. Of course she would think this was funny, she always though his pain was funny. That was probably what this was all about. “Nilled, you better hurry up! You’re going to miss it!” Avian giggled again as she teased him, and began to swing her feet as her smile broadened. “Miss what?” Nilled was beyond curiosity now, but he decided he’d play along. “Look!” She pointed across the chamber, and up towards the airshaft. What in the name of the Sanitized could it possibly be, he thought to himself, the only that comes out of that shaft is bats and the occasional falling corpse. Nothing interesting has happened since- Nilled heart quickened. Slowly, he turned and brought his head up, thoughts racing around in his mind. It couldn’t be, it can’t be. They say that it only happens every couple of generations. It shouldn’t be happening again, not this soon. It was. As he turned his head fully around, his eyes widened as Nilled saw the iron and wood base emerge from the airshaft, followed by countless strands of iron poles. “The Elevator…” these words barely escaped his mouth, his lungs frozen in awe and surprise. The massive construction descended slowly into the camber, a masterwork of metal that seemed to fall through what as its mass emptied from the shaft, suspended by a massive chain. Spirals black iron formed its existence, taking the form of dying roses, thorns, and the forms of a thousand bodies writhing agony and praying to some divine being for forgiveness. At the top of the cage, just bellow the chain and loop, facing north, the image of a heart was laced into the shape of the cage. Resting within it was a table of metal, bearing inscriptions in Elvish. “In the Darkness lies the Shadow of the Light.” Nilled jumped a foot into the air in surprise. Turning, he caught Avian smiling at him. She mouthed ‘surprise,’ and giggled. He swore to himself. He hadn’t heard her come down. “And what’s that supposed to mean?” He was confused, and excited at the same time. Avian shrugged. “That’s what it says. Up, on top of the cage. It’s probably an incantation or something.” Nilled turned back as the elevator continued its descent, watching the robed figures inside squirm around like worms, black and white striped worms. He stood onto his toes as the cage descended below the heads of the crowd. Unable to see anything more, he reached out for something to steady himself as he stepped onto a crate. His hand met something hard and scaly, and Nilled heard a hiss of displeasure. Turning his head, he came face to face with a Gatorfolk, or Lizardman as Bathord called them. It glared back at him, seven feet of scales and an appetite for meat. “Um, sorry.” He removed his hand and smiled at the Lizardman. “Didn’t mean any harm, sir.” The reptilian snuffed in response and, pounding his walking stick on the cobblestone, walked away, a flock of goats following in heel. “Ok then…” Avian scowled and made a rude gesture at the back of the Gator. “Scabbing reptile, I would have gutted him, if he’d shown that kind of disrespect towards me.” She turned her head to Nilled. “You should off knocked him across his scaly head.” Nilled sighed. “There was no reason to.” That, and if he had, he’d probably gotten eaten. “There was plenty reason to, you just decided not to.” Nilled rolled his eyes and turned back to the elevator. He could see it clearly now, its doors were open, and those within had already begun to empty. They filled out slowly, some in twos and threes, others as individuals. Shyly, the crowd reached out, giving them space, but still striving to grasp something of them, whether it was their skin or an article of their clothing. Most of the habitants of the elevator jumped back, cringing away from the hands, others met them warmly, stopping and talking, their faces seeded with worry and confusion. A few reacted violently, twisting the arms of those who dared to touch them, causing the crowd to part back and away, giving those few plenty of room as they strutted or sulked across the chamber and into the pipeways. Eventually the elevator was almost empty, and only a few figures lay within. One in the very center of the cage, a figure as tall as man, bonded by layers of chains and leather straps, belts and locks that restricted all movement. Black pointed ears protruded from its head. Its eyes, and what appeared to be a muzzle, were wrapped in belts of leather. Scattered around it, were puddles of dried blood and a severed arm. Nilleds face turned grim, whatever was bound in those chains wasn’t friendly. He turned his attention to the other figure, a woman, who was sitting quietly at the edge of the cage. He thought he saw a bat perched on her arm, which she held out, level with her chest, but it was to big. Her hair was black, and her skin was fair, with the slightest kiss of sunlight on its smooth features. Her lips were rosy and healthy, her cheeks the lightest shade of crimson, and her body was lean and strong. He watched as she pulled her hair of her ear and out of her face, revealing small, pointed ears. Too small to be an elf Nilled thought, but she definitely not human. “Hey! Nilled! What’s going on? I can’t see!” Avian was jumping up, struggling to get a peek over the sea of heads. “The cage is almost empty, there’s just to people left now, or at least one of them is a person. The other ones some thing wrapped in chains. Whatever it is, it doesn’t look pleasant.” This caught Avians attention, and her face perked up. “Wrapped in chains? Is there a lock?” Nilled looked down at her. “I know what you’re think Avian, don’t do it. We have no idea what that thing is. Wait, Avian, get back here!” But he couldn’t stop her, she was already gone, slipping and slinking her way through the crowd, wandering in the direction of the cage. Nilled swore to himself, Avian was going to get herself killed, or worse. He put his head back up and watched the elevator. p=. ~ p<. “What do you want me to do?” Relyte listen intently as her eagle peeped shuffled its feet. “Ok, and why should I do that?” The eagle, glared sternly at her, and shrieked, urging her to do its’ bidding. “Alright, alright. No need to get mad. But remember, you owe me one after this.” She stood up, and launched her bird up into the air with a toss of her elbow. “We’ll meet up once I’m out of this cage.” Walking towards the center of the elevator, her feet padding quietly across the wood, she proceeded to close her eyes, and reach out with her spirit. Darkness radiated from the creature and a bitter chill that made her feel empty inside. She withdrew as the creature felt what she was doing and turned its head in her direction as best it could. It was old, that much she could tell. But not as old as this mountain, as the stone around them, and she could use that to her advantage if she needed to. “Relax, I’m not here to hurt you.” She dropped down onto her knees beside the beast, and stroked a length of chain. “I could use you as an ally.” A soft growl emitted from within its bindings, and it exhaled sharply. Squirming, it tried to break its bonds, but the collective strength of the chains wasn’t enough, and it gave up with a howl of irritation. “Hold still, I’m going to try something.” Relyte glided her hand across the chains. The leather straps weren’t a problem, they’d easily be torn after the chains were gone, but the problem was getting rid of the chains. She let her fingers wander around them, feeling every flaw and each individual link before moving onto the next. She stood, and took a firm grip of a chain. She exhaled, and flexed her arms. She bit into her lip as she pulled furiously on the chain. The links warped and bent, but the metal refused to give in, and she gave up with an angry toss. “I can’t! Crude lump of metal refuses to give in!” She stomped on the floor of the elevator and chewed on her lip, trying to think of some way to break the chains. The thing inside gave what sounded like a chuckle and said something that was muffled by the bonds. “Just be quiet!” Relyte snapped, and stomped again. She looked outside of the cage. The crowd was starting get restless, and a couple of them were actually moving into the elevator. Getting to bold, she thought, I might have to leave this thing here and get out before they try anything. Her eyes darted over to a girl who darted into the cage, squeezing her way between the growing numbers that pressed at the exit. She wasn’t small, but she was shorter than Relyte, and a lot younger too. She had long, smooth, black hair, and extremely pale skin. Her eyes were sunken and low, like she’d never slept in her life. Stale leather and a thin layer of rags covered what it could of her body, but couldn’t hide some of her ribs, which could be seen underneath her skin. She stopped before the chained figure and bent over to examine a few of the locks that kept the metal and leather in place. Avian paid no attention to Relyte as she pulled out a small metal pick and a set of iron prongs. Bending over, she selected one of the locks and began to work with it, picking at its opening like a crow picking at carrion. A few moments later she had it opened, and she moved onto the next one. Within a minute the chains fell off with a clink, and the creature within them was revealed. It stood up, covered head to toe in sleek black fur. Roughly over seven feet tall, it dwarfed both of the women who stood beside it, and was riddled with layers of rippling muscle. A set of claws protruded from each of its massive hands as well as its feet. Besides the leather that was still wrapped loosely around its body, and the muzzle that trapped its face, it wore nothing but a plain white loincloth. Slowly, the monster flexed its hands and then its arms, rotating its shoulders and shaking out its cramped legs. It stretched its back as Avian stepped forward and felt the fur on its stomach, her fingers trying to clarify what her eyes were seeing. “Cool.” She whispered to herself, as she looked at her hand, then back at the beast. The creature growled and knelt over, grabbing her by the shoulders and bringing their faces together. Even through its mask of belts, Avian could see the flash of teeth and feel its’ hot breathe wash over her face, covering with the scent of blood. She understood the message loud and clear: no tickling. The creature gave a huff and let her go. It fiddled with its mask, but its fingers were too large and clumsy to get a decent grip on the straps of leather. “Here, bend over.” Avian pulled on its arm as she said this, and the creature complied as it fell into a cross-legged position. Avian, looked closely, turning the beasts head from side to side, examining every inch of the mask. She couldn’t find a single lock, or anything to release it. The thing was bolted together. “I’m going to have to cut it, but my knife’s no where near sharp enough to cut through this. Can you wait till later?” The monster gave a groan and shook its head, obviously frustrated. “I’m sorry, but I just don’t have to right tools to get it off.” Avian pouted and apologized repeatedly. The creature sighed and stood back up. She took it by the arm, and pressed her face up against its fur. “But don’t worry, I’ll guide you till we get that thing off!” The monster turned its head down to face her. It chuckled through its bindings again, and stroked Avian across her head, its claws parting her night black hair. “Hey, sorry to ruin your guy’s bonding time, but we’ve got to move. That or it’ll be a bit rough when we decide to get out of this cage.” She gestured towards the crowd, which had begun to move even further into the cage. Some were beyond curiosity and had drawn knives. The creature gave a growl as its ears perked up. Slipping its arm out of Avians grasp, it stooped over and grabbed the pile of chains that rested at its feet. Grasping them firmly, it took a step forward and snarled menacingly at the crowd. Most of them backed away, some even fled the cage, but a few others stood their ground and brought their knives up. It gave a snort in return and lashed out with the chains, wrapping them around people and slamming them the walls of the elevator. Their bones shattered with a sharp crunch and they fell down to the floor. None of them got back up. Flipping the chains over its shoulder, the creature turned back to the rest of the crowd and gave a parting sign with its hand. Not all complied, as most of them pulled out rusted daggers and worn clubs. The monster gave a sigh. This was far too tedious. p=. ~ p<. Nilleds eyes had widened as he watched the monster step out from the chains. They widened even more as he watched some of the onlookers draw knives and try to attack the thing, and even more so when it dispatched them with a flick of its wrists. Still, despite its monstrous strength, even that beast was going to be in trouble if all of the remaining attackers fought at once. And he didn’t want Avian to get hurt. He had to do something, and quick. Dropping down, he opened his spellbook and began flipping through its contents, looking for something useful that he could actually cast. He had to be quick, or it’d mean a world of pain for him once Avian got out and decided to punish him for not helping. p=. ~ p<. The first attacker charged forth, coming in low and quickly, putting his knife up for a stab. The beast responded with a swing of its chains, crushing its target into a pile of blood and organs on the elevator floor. It whipped the chains back up to meet its other attackers, who had used the first as a distraction. They had tried to circle it, flank it from all sides. It responded with quick swipe of metal, breaking jaws and necks before they could get into position. Closer to cage door, Avian had managed to trip her opponent and secure him in a hold. Pulling her knife, she slit his throat with a quick movement of rusty steel. She dropped him to the floor and signaled the others. “Come on! Lets get out of this thing!” She turned to the exit only to be pushed back by even more thugs, who were now swarming at the elevator, each one struggling to force his or her way in. p=. ~ p<. “Come on, where is it? Where is it?” Nilled flipped through his spellbook furiously, his fingers scrolling through each line in a frantic search. “Ah-ha! Here it is!” He read the text as quickly as he could, and then started rummaging through his pouch, chanting something all the while. Pulling out a piece of wax, he made a gesture with the wax and finished his incantation. Switching back to Common, added on a series of insults and threats and finished his spell with a single word. The wax turned scalding hot and coated his fingers, burning his knuckle hair and skin. The smoke that rose from the wax took the shape of four, finger-sized, ghosts, which sped off in different directions. Nilled yawned, and tried to rub away the sleep that was beginning to build, but his eyelids still grew heavy. “That should do it.” He spoke through another yawn, before falling down to the floor and curling up into a light sleep. p=. ~ p<. “Don’t these guys ever give up?” Relyte demanded as she ducked another knife and the swing of a club. Grabbing both of her assailants by the hair, she shoved their faces together, knocking out teeth and breaking a nose. She let them go and slumped together, down onto the floor. The creature grunted in response as it ripped the arm off an attacker and used it beat another. Relyte could hear Avian giggling as she wrapped her legs around the head of a thug who had managed to pin her, and toss him into the numbers that continued to pressure the door. “Does it matter?” She asked as she flipped back onto her feet and cut a man across his eyes. “This is fun!” Relyte rolled her eyes but didn’t respond. Instead, she snapped her foot into the stomach of a man and swung her other leg up to kick the side of his head in. She didn’t let him fall, and used him as a shield instead, letting the slashes and stabs of their enemies find their home in his back. Better then my own body, she thought as she dropped the man aside and grabbed another to use. The increasing noise level outside of the cage caught her attention, were the entire crowd had seemed to break into chaos. There was fighting everywhere, people were brawling like it was the end of the world. Even better, the people were now to busy defending themselves to even think about joining the fight in the cage. Quickly they cut the number of their attackers down and started to make for the door when the cage gave a sudden jerk and started to move. “What’s going on? Are they trying to tip the cage?” Relyte was in slight panic as she struggled to keep her balance. “Nope.” Avian was smiling as she tumbled over to Relyte and the beast. “The elevator’s going up!” Relyte swore and tried to run over to the exit, but stumbled and lost her balance. “We’ve gotta get out of here!” She yelled and she watched the crowd below get farther away. A sudden buckle of the cage sent Avian head over heels, landing on her back in fits of laughter. “This isn’t funny!” Relyte snapped as she tried to get back onto her feet. Before she could stand, she felt herself being lifted into the air. Twisting, she found herself on the shoulders of the beast, face to face with its leather mask. She heard Avian giggle as the beast lifted her up into its other arm. “Wait a second!” The creature broke out into a run, clearing the distance between them and the elevator door within a few instant moments. Dropping into a slide, it glided out, barely escaping as the elevator disappeared into the darkness of the airshaft. Relytes’ stomach rolled as they started to fall through the air, plummeting over fifty feet down into the crowd. They landed hard, the monsters feet slamming into the back of a man who’d been chasing a woman amongst the chaos of the rioting crowd. It released the girls, who dropped to the floor. Relyte swooned and swore to herself as Avian clutched her gut in fits of laughter. The creature bent over and checked the condition of their landing pad. Convinced he was dead, it tossed it aside and looked listened in to its surroundings. “We’ve got to get out of here, to some were quiet!” Relyte gasped after losing the contents of her stomach. “What’s wrong?” Avian asked between bursts of giggles and laughter. “I hate falling!” Relyte dropped back onto her hands as her stomach emptied again. “So is there anywhere we can go?” she demanded after she was certain her sickness was over. Avian considered her question for a moment, still sitting on the floor; her legs sprawled out across the cobblestone. “Yeah! Follow me!” She hopped up and was about to run off when she came found a man charging at her intending to club her with the stone he held in his hand. She felt a burst of air play with her tassels and her eyes caught a glimpse of black fur as the creature struck its fist out in an instant. The blow connected cleanly, sending her would-be attacker fly back into a swarming crowd of rioters, where he clearly got trampled. Avian tried to mouth her gratitude, but a shout from behind distracted them. The shout turned into a gargled cry as she turned to see an elf strangling some man. The man clawed desperately at the elf, drawing thin lines of blood, but the elf held his grip firmly. With a flex of lean muscle the elf cracked the mans’ neck and dropped him to the floor. Avian heard Relyte whistle in respect, and was surprised herself. The elf was short, but he was stocky, with dark skin and bulky muscle that didn’t usually belong to an elf, but he was definitely a full-blood elf. His ears were at least three inches long, and ended in a needle thin tip. Behind him, stood another elf, who, despite being fully mature, was considerably shorter than her male elf counter-part. Her skin was paler than his, and she had long sandy blond hair. Her eyes were a sharp emerald. Avian heard a yawn behind her and turned around to see Nilled standing behind her, wiping sleep from his eyes. “Nilled!” She pounced on him, causing him to stumble back. He hugged her back slightly and then looked at the rest of the group. Two elves, a thing, and an elf-man woman, he thought, this could get odd. He noticed they were all wearing the striped robes of the Descended, meaning they were all from above. He spotted the pool of bile at the half-elfs’ feet and scowled. He reached into his pouch and pulled out a vial of liquid soap. Pouring it onto the vomit, he replaced the vial with a single-handed mop. Pulling on some gloves, he bent over a scrubbed the pool until it was gone and the soap had done its job. ‘Are you serious!” Relyte shouted. “We’re in the middle of a riot and you decide to stop and cleanup! We’ve got more important things to do, like get out of here!” The elf-man sighed, and spoke up. “Relax, half-man, it’s not worth yelling about. But she’s right you know, now is not the time to be cleaning up, even a mess as disgusting as that.” Nilled wiped the spot dry, and started putting away his utensils. Avian laughed. “Nilled’s like that. If even the smallest thing is out of order, he’s got to put it back in place. I’ve watched him clean his plate while eating off it. He just does stuff like that, so leave him be.” Relyte groaned as she shoved her elbow into the face of another rioter. “Whatever, he’s done now, so lets go!” Nilled stood up, and turned to Avian. ‘We can take them to Bathord, the Rats Hole has plenty of room, and I doubt anyone has the courage to start anything in there.” Avian nodded and motioned towards the rest of the group. “Come on, this way!” She started to run off, pushing her way through the riot, everyone else following close behind. They made their way to the tunnel and started down it when Nilled grabbed Avian by the arm. “You owe me a Buttercap.” He let her go, smiled, and started down the tunnel. Avian glared at him, then giggled to herself and followed him. Back, sitting atop the crates that had sheltered Avian and Nilled earlier, a figure completely cloaked in black cloth stood next to a old, dark-skinned, man with a graying beard and curly, but balding hair. The old man was smiling, rotten gums and the odd wooden tooth showed between his dry lips. He cackled and turned to face the cloaked figure. “So it begins. Ya’ll rememba’ our deal, righ’?” The cloaked figure nodded and turned to leave when the old man spoke again. “Tell yo’ masta’ he still has som’ time, kay? Tell ‘im he still has a chance.” The cloaked figure laughed and turned back to the old man. “My master says the same to you. Give up while you still can. You’re powerful, but you can’t win this game. It’s already over.” Without another word, the figure leapt away, bouncing across the wall and disappearing into a ventilation tunnel. “We’ll see child.” The old man gagged and spat, and chuckled deeply to himself. “We’ll see.”