Chapter Two: Decisions
“Come on, this way!” Avian shouted back as she ran ahead, dodging through the few people that walked the pipeway. Nilled groaned to himself and it turned into another yawn. He wiped his eyes again and tried to suppress another yawn. “You okay, kid?” The dark skinned elf asked; his arms crossed across his muscular chest. He glanced at Nilled through his curly brown hair. “You not get enough sleep?” Nilled smiled through another yawn. He shook his head. “No, I sleep just fin, usually. It’s just magic tends to take a lot out of me. I just need a short nap and I’ll be fine.” Relyte glanced at him and snuffed. “Magic? Like you could even comprehend something like magic. A little boy like you probably has little appreciation for nature, let alone the arts.” Nilled raised an eyebrow. “Art? That’s an odd way to describe it. My master always compared to the mechanics of a clock or some other machine. Everything has to be in the correct shape or form, and all parts must be present otherwise the spell will fail and probably backfire. An art isn’t exactly accurate, but I guess you could describe it like that.” Relyte scowled. “You’re as bad as those High-Mages from the court. ‘A science’ they called it, ‘A tool of logic and reality.’ Fools, magic is an art, a bond between the caster and nature. It’s as close to reality as you can get, and is not some tool to be used by society. That’s how the world fell in the first place!” Her face was lit in fury as she spat out the last sentence. “Okay, believe what you want. But magic shouldn’t be treated as an art. It isn’t a tool, but it’s not a toy either. Using it like either would have dire consequences!” Nilled yawned again and rubbed his eyes. “Of course I’ll believe what I want! Like you could say otherwise!” Relyte snapped angrily as her brows hardened into a glare. The dark skinned elf put a hand on her shoulder. “Relax, it’s just a matter of opinion. Besides, we have more to focus on than arguing with each other.” Relyte shook his hand off and stomped off. “I know that!” Nilled chuckled as the elf simply smiled. His voice was deep and solid when he spoke again. “By the way, who are you? You have a name?” He turned his head to look Nilled in the eyes. “Nilled. I’m the floor-keeper of the Rats Hole.” He offered his arm and the elf grasped it firmly. “Runya. As I’m pretty sure you can tell, I’m not from around here. Where ever ‘here’ is.” He looked around as he spoke, his eyes following the brickwork and cobblestone. “You’re in the Undercity, if that helps. You won’t find it on any map or anything else, even in Heaven I guess.” Runya turned to Nilled, his expression obviously confused. “Heaven?” “Aren’t you one of the Descended? A paladin sent by the Celestial to help us ascend? To help us find the sun-light?” This befuddled Nilled; that was what he’d been told, at least in the old stories, and he believed it with out doubt. “A paladin!” Runya laughed. “Look, I may appear strong kid, but I’m no paladin! I’m just a soldier who’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time and got discharged for it. I can only dream of doing some of the things paladins do!” Nilled nodded. “Okay, so you’re just a soldier of Heaven then, right? A mortal servant of the Angels?” Runya laughed again. “Heaven? Angels? I wouldn’t call were I come from Heaven kid, and there aren’t any angels up there, that I know of. Actually, it’s a bit more like Hell now, than anything else!” Nilled frowned as Runya laughed ‘heaven’ to himself again. “Oh, well, it can’t be too bad compared to here though.” He gestured at the sewage water that poured out of a drainage pipe and into the main stream. “True, at least up there we have sunlight.” He grabbed Nilled by the arm and smacked him on the back. “But don’t let it get to you kid! Trust me, when you’re an elf, you see a lot of things, and I’ve seen worse than this place in my life time, and I’m not even that old! You just worry about yourself and focus on life and living.” He smiled and Nilled gave a weak smile in return. Walking ahead, Runya stepped up to the elf-woman and said, “Nice to meet you though!” before turning to talk to her. Nilled sighed to himself; the elf was right, best not to think about it. He’d talk to Father Hawkye later and set some things straight. For now, he turned his thoughts to how he was going to convince Bathord that these newcomers weren’t going to cause any trouble, especially that thing in the muzzle. The group continued to walk down the pipeway until they reached the Rats Hole, and Nilled guided everyone through the double doors. “Bathord! Guests!” Bathord shuffled out of the kitchen in full apron and smiled at Nilled. His voice was happy, almost gleeful when he spoke. “Wonderful! Welcome, welcome! Have a seat! Glad too see Nilled can get customers as well as keep this place clean!” He gestured toward a couple of booths and the group sat down. “But Nilled, Leneli’s been complaining about some beggar sitting out side the door spreading his plague and asking for charity. See what he wants and shoo him off would ya? It’s not good for business, having some one like him sitting outside our doors.” Nilled nodded and turned for the doors. Behind him he heard Bathord face the others and ask, “So, will you be having anything of your fancy to drink? Ale, beer, or a wine perhaps?” Nilled smiled to himself. Besides him, probably no one else had any coin to pay for anything, so Bathord was out of luck. He walked out the doors and spotted the beggar that Bathord had been talking about. Beggar was accurate, but leper could also describe the old, dark skinned man that sat, hacking and coughing into his fist, just outside the entrance. He was wrapped in a lifetimes worth of salvaged clothing, layers of torn cloth and shredded robes covered most of his body. His head was balding, with frizzy gray hair and a whitening beard that barely managed to cover his chin. He coughed into his fist again, and choked up a wad of spit that he spat into the gutter. “Are you alright?” Nilled could see that he was obviously in pain, and needed something. Water would probably help him, and some food wouldn’t hurt. The old beggar turned his eyes up to Nilled and laughed. It was a deep, hoarse laugh that resonated from some where in the beggars dying lungs. “Anythin’ ya’ have ta’ spare wou’ be nice. Anythin’ at all wou’ ‘elp.” He coughed again, and his lungs spasmed with such force that a small, wooden, tooth fell out of his mouth and onto the cobblestone. “Whoopsies!” The old man picked it up and examined it. Certain it was clean enough; he shoved back into his mouth. “Look, I don’t have much, and I’m not really a healer so I can’t help you, but here, take these.” Reaching into his pouch, Nilled pulled out his lunch and produced the bundle of mushrooms. “These should help.” He handed them to the man, who smiled at him and took them gratefully from his hands. “T’ank ya’ sonny, t’ank ya’.” He grabbed Nilled by the wrist and shoved his hand into his rags. He pulled out his clenched fist and shoved it into Nilleds palm. Dropping something into it, he closed Nilleds fingers around the object. “Here, ma’ t’ank ta’ ya’!” A mouth of rotten teeth and gums took the form of a smile on the old mans face. He let go and Nilled opened his hand to take a look at the object. It was a medallion, a piece of tarnished bronze furnished in the shape of a sun. “What is this?” Nilled asked. There was no reply, so he lifted his head up ask again, but the old man was gone. Nilled stared blankly at the empty air in front of him, then glanced around. Gone, completely gone. A bit shaken, he pocketed the medallion and walked back into the tavern. ~ “Wait a second, how can you afford all of this!” Nilled asked as he took sight of the massive banquet that lay, sprawled out upon two tables. “Lets just say I had a bountiful harvest this morning.” Avian said through a smile as she spread some Waterberry jam onto a slice of Mossloaf. She took a bite, washing down the hard bread with a sip of Dragonberry wine. “Just sit down and eat.” Avian motioned at the seats across the booth, were Relyte was picking a plate of Leakberries and a Greytentacle roast with obvious disgust. “Are you sure? This must of cost a lot, I shouldn’t eat any of this!” Avian scowled. “Just eat, don’t worry about the cost. Besides you helped pay for some of this too.” She took another bite and grinned at Nilled. “What?” Nilled checked his pockets, searching for his coincase. Gone, he couldn’t find it anywhere. “When did you?“ Avian laughed through another bite of bread and jam. She managed to swallow before speaking out. “Earlier, behind the crates. You really need to be more aware, Nilled. I had at least eight more opportunities after that as well!” She continued to smile as she finished the slice of Mossloaf and reached for another. Nilled groaned, and covered his face in frustration. He’d been saving that money for something special, and now he’d have to start all over again. “Can I at least have my coincase back?” Avian reach into one of her pockets and pulled out a small wooden case and tossed it to Nilled. “At least eat some of this. Either that or everyone else does.” Nilled checked the condition of the case, and, finding nothing wrong with it except its vacant emptiness, dropped it into one of the pouches that hung off his pant legs. “I would if I could, but Bathord said I had to fix the radio when I got back.” Speaking of which, I should probably tell him that that beggars gone now too. He turned and walked past the booths, over to the kitchen door. “Bathord, the beggars gone, and I’m going to go fix the radio now.” He heard an acknowledgement from Bathord, followed by the hiss of pipes as a new batch of mead was plugged into the taps. Nilled walked to the back of the tavern, into the storage room. Unlike a majority of the Rats Hole, the storage room wasn’t fashioned out of flushed septic tank, but was cut out of solid rock. It was a common practice in the Undercity, and a large number of dwellings were made in this fashion, growing slowly over years, as each generation carved further back, into the mountains flesh. It was a fairly large room, with shelves molded out of stone, metal and wood, stacked to the brim with cleaning materials, tools, and other various objects. In the center of the room was a large trapdoor. The door opened to a ladder that led to the cellars, were most of the food was stored for later use. Some of the cheese down there was centuries old, and some of the wine even older. Nilled searched through the shelves, pulling out a couple of fuse-bulbs, a length of copper wire, a pack of screws, and a pair of insulated gloves. Placing them in his work pouch, he walked around a shelf, grabbing a platform for his tools, and clipped it onto on of the two ladders that loomed in the shadows in the back of the room. Grabbing the ladder, he carefully brought it down and tucked it under his arm. Gripping it firmly, he walked out of the room, careful not to knock anything off the shelves, and kicked the door shut behind him. He maneuvered through the tables, avoiding customers and plates of food as he worked his way back to the front of the tavern. The radio was a small wooden object that was embedded into the wall, nesting between the arches of the twin doors. It was an old thing, gnome in make, with dull brass knobs and a face of glass that displayed the current channel. It was currently on the same channel it always was on; channel one, the Sermons of the Angel and the Name, the station of the Church of Lazarus. It was the first channel to actually be used, and was the reason the radios became popular in the first place. Nilled set the ladder against the wall, and locked its legs into place. He tested its strength them climbed up, coming to a rest before the radio. Reaching into his pouches, he produced and screwdriver and began working to open the maintenance panel that made up the lower half of the machine, just below the glass display. Four screws later and he was done. Nilled began searching the inside of radio for anything out of place, blowing away a few weeks worth of dust as he gently shifted through the wiring. Like he had predicted, one of the bulbs had popped and cut the circuit, so he pulled on the insulated gloves and began removing it. ~ “Aren’t you going to eat anything?” Avian asked as she cut off another slice of octopi and popped it into her mouth. The creature growled in aggravation as it tried to slip a thigh of goat meat in-between the belts of its muzzle. It gave up and dropped the thigh back down onto its plate. “Oh! I’m so sorry! I forgot!” Avian set her fork down and pulled out her knife and a small leather kit. ”I said I was going to remove that thing earlier, didn’t I?” She rolled the kit open, picking out a small scalpel, a hammer and a pair of pliers. She pulled down on the creatures shoulder. “Could you lean closer, I can’t reach your face.” The creature complied, lowering its head into its arms so Avian could examine the muzzle more closely. Her eyes widened in shock. “This thing’s been bolted into your skin!” She turned and grabbed her scalpel. “You must have given somebody a lot of trouble for them to do that to you.” The beast growled in response as Avian positioned her scalpel and began slicing through the tanned leather. She worked slowly, careful to avoid cutting into the black furred skin of the monster, removing sections of the muzzle one at a time. Eventually, all that was left was the strap across its eyes. The creature tested its jaw as Avian finished the job, row after row of sharp canines smacking and chomping wetly inside its jowls. “There, I’ve most of it, enough so you can eat and see, but we’ll have to removed those studs eventually, and it’ll probably hurt.” Avian cleaned her tools and packed them away. Once she was done, she turned to watch the creature, which had already returned to eating, ripping apart plates full of meat and stuffing it into its mouth, finally washing it all down with water and wine. The creature was incredible to Avian. Covered in slick black fur, its body was a massive display of muscle and masculinity. Its head was like a dogs, but leaner, with snow-white eyes glowing beneath a slender brow. Its ears were tall and slender and its nose was small and sharp. It was wet, and shone like a piece of polished obsidian at the end of the beast snout. “So do you have a name?” Avian asked, staring up at the beast as she rested her head on her elbows, making no attempt to mask her admiration. The creature stopped eating in mid-bite, and turned to Avian, its cheeks swollen with food and the tentacle of some species of squid hanging out of its mouth. It swallowed with an effort, and licked its teeth quickly. It stared at Avian for a minute, its bleached eye burrowing into her, scouring her for any dishonesty. It smiled, a wolfish grin that slowly climbed the length of its muzzle. “Aren’t you afraid, Elf-child? Do you not have reason to fear me?” Its voice was calm and warm, like a sandy breeze against sun-baked dunes. Avian titled her head to the side. “Afraid, I find you amazing! Why would I be afraid?” The beast smirked, chuckled, then burst out into a deep laughter, like thunder echoing off a canyon wall. It leaned close, bringing its head to eye level with her. She could smell the food on its breath as it spoke, along with the remains of some old kill. “Ah, but some times, what fascinates you could hurt you, or worse.” Avian laughed lightly, and pulled one of the creatures to her. Parting her lips, she whispered. “Maybe, but you’d probably have your hands full with me.” She tugged on the ear before letting it go, and leaned back to pick up her glass. She held an eyebrow raised in question as she took a sip. The monster returned the gesture, letting its thoughts take over for a few brief moments. “Anqelus.” It sat back, sinking into the cloth of their seats. “My name is Anqelus.” Avian smiled, and set her glass down. She grabbed the Anqelus around his arm and hugged it. “Nice to meet you, I’m Avian!” Across the table, Relyte glanced at the creature between bites. Anqelus, she thought, just what are you? She continued to eat as she searched her mind for any knowledge she might have heard about the thing sitting across from her. Her attention, as well as the attention of the others, was drawn away from their meals as a drunken quarrel sounded near the door. ~ “There.” Nilled muttered to himself as he finished installing the fuse. He gave the power button a push and the bulb lit, glowing moon yellow for a few brief seconds before bursting into a cloud of grey smoke with a ‘pop.’ Nilled groaned and rolled his eyes. So the problem wasn’t the bulb. He removed the smoldering remains of the fuse-bulb and began checking the wiring for any flaws. As he dove deeper into the radio, he found a twist of wires that had melted together, causing a short circuit. He sighed and checked the power. Sure it was off, he pulled out a driver and unscrewed the wires. He cut out three separate lengths of copper wire, and set them into place. He replaced the fuse again, then, after double-checking everything else, hit the power. The radio whined to life as electricity ran through the wiring and the fuse lit once more. “-or the charitable man he shall light a candle, and guide him upon the path. For the greedy he shall chain their feet and stay their steps, for they shall not ascend to the glory of salvation! Thus is the word of thy savior, Lazarus, the Lord.” Nilled flipped the panel shut and secured it. Finally Bathord could stop complaining about the radio and list to the sermons. He started to climb down when he heard some shouting begin to grow beneath him. The shouts were drunken and ill meant. He inhaled and continued to descend, this better just be some drunken brawl. There was yelp of pain as something small struck the ladder and Nilled gripped is length tighter as it shook. His heart skipped a beat as he heard the sharp snapping of wood and the ladder began to fall. He lunged forth, his hand snatching whatever it could in reflex. As the ladder fell back, he realized what he’d grabbed: the radio. It simply slid out of the wall, its wiring tearing out of the stone in coils of copper. For a few seconds he hung, ladder, Nilled, and radio, suspended in mid-fall as the wires ran out of length. Then they popped loose, and Nilled tumbled to the floor, his ladder falling onto two large men as he hit the stone with a dull ‘thud.’ “What the!” The third man leaned forward, and adjusted his goggles to get a better look. “Where’d ya’ come from ki-“ He didn’t get a chance to finish as the radio dropped onto his head, shattering into fragments of wood and metal. The man, a miner Nilled judged, from him goggles and safety outfit, fell to the floor without another word as blood trickled slowly from a cut in his shaven head. The other two miners stood up slowly, careful not to trip on the ladder that had knocked them over. They approached Nilled, who sat sprawled out on the stone. He scooted back as they continued to step forward, eventually sliding into something that cowered against the wall. The thing gave a small squeal as Nilled bumped into it, and he turned around to see a small goblin quivering in fear. The goblin was skinny, and dirty, with knotted black hair and long splintered nails. Its green, knobby, skin was covered in a tattered black suit, and a small hat sat crumpled at its feet. The knees of its slacks were torn, and all it wore for shoes was a pair of toeless old boots. Tears had begun to well up at the corners of its eyes. Nilled tucked the goblin closer behind him and turned back to face the two standing men. They were obviously displeased as they glared down at Nilled, their faces flushed from alcohol, but their eyes obviously focused. One began popping his knuckles as the other spoke. “What’s the problem with ya’ kid. Yar mum drop ya’ on yar head or somethin’?” The miner leaned closer, and grabbed Nilled by the collar. Nilled was easily taller than him, but the miner was huge, covered in massive, stone-crushing, muscles, and lifted him clear off the ground. “Listen here, and listen good. Either you apologize, buy us a round of drinks, or we bust your head open along with this fartsucking goblin. Understand, stupid?” Nilled glared at the miner, who sighed and dropped him. “Guess not.” The miner rose his fist to club Nilled across the face, and Nilled tried to raise his arms up in defense. He ended up not needing to, as the miner found a large black furred fist crushing his wrist. Anqelus spun the man around by his arm, and grabbed him by his neck. Nilled could hear bones cracking as the miner was lifted up into the air, Anqelus holding him above his seven feet of height. The massive beast let out a growl and curled his lips up in a snarl. “Understand this, stupid, either you grab your bleed friend there, and you three run for your lives, or I rip your face off and use it to wipe my ass, got it?” When he didn’t get an answer, Anqelus tightened his grip, his knuckles squeezing the blood in his captives’ neck until the miners face turned purple. The man nodded franticly and clawed desperately at Anqelus’s hand. The jackal-faced beast dropped the miner without a sound and turned to offer his hand to Nilled, as the miners dragged themselves through the doors. Nilled took it, and was pulled to his feet. “Thanks.” He said, and turned around to offer the goblin his own hand. “Are you alright?” The goblin continued to cower against the wall. He kept his eyes on Anqelus and swallowed a lump of air as the creature smiled, amused at the small things terror. “Hey, its okay, we’re not going to hurt you. My names Nilled, I’m the cleankeeper here. Are you okay?” The goblin swallowed again, and nodded. He took Nilleds’ hand and stood up, dusting himself off before picking up his hat. He flicked it back into its proper shape and placed it upon his greasy black hair. The goblin gave a bow, and titled its hat in a gentlemanly gesture. “Nekgoul Nodrosch, Servant of Lord Beezle of Beezles’ Farm, at your service Master Nilled. I am forever in favor of you and your mighty companion. How may I be of assistance?” Nekgoul finished the gesture with a twirl of his hat, and looked back and forth between Anqelus and Nilled, who looked at each other in question.
[To be Continued]