The Price of Sin: The Condemned

Introduction

The Price of Sin: The Condemned

Currently Active Dungeon Master: Ickiss

Currently Active Player Characters: Anqelus, Avian Aclaleun, Liah Meliamne, Nilled, Relyte, Runya en’Dae.

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Introduction

Jeõs, a land of wind and rock, were jagged mountain peaks resemble towering spires that seem to pierce the fabric of the sky. The air here, above the clouds, is thin and sharp, like a razor blade coated in frost. The sun is bright and harsh, countless spears of white light that glimmer upon the frosty faces of these hundred peaks. The moon looms in the sky as a disk of soft and gentle marble, a silver light that illuminates the late hours. The stars, however, still hang far away, always out of reach, the smallest of gemstones decorating the veil of darkness called the night. Even further dwell the gods, high above this mortal realm, which, despite its’ magnificent heights, dwells ever closer to the Planes of Suffering, of Demons, Devils, and Beasts. Sin and corruption run rampant through out the peaks, carried on the wind like some foul disease that taints the rain and water, plaguing the lustrous cities that used to shine like crowns on the mountaintops. Darkness creeps forward, forever closer, as a man find he no longer trusts his own shadow, and that the face of a stranger has replaced his own reflection. Homes are no longer safe, as blood fills the streets, forming crimson swirls that mix with the rain and ice, scarlet spirals draining into the sewers below.

This is Jeõs.

The Land of Black Spires.

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Prologue

“Next!” The line of bodies shuffled forward on command, a parade of misery that walked slowly to the rhythm of chains. The Bookman looked at the face of his next prisoner, then at the serial number wrought upon the collar of his shackles. “Le’see har’… numba’ tree’tousan’ furty’-two… le’see… Ah! Har ya’ ar’ ya’ wort’less stain. Mister Hemipen is it? Yar’ in fur tryin’ ta’ steal a loaf O’ bread, ay? Shame on ya’ and yar’ tainted blud’ ‘Xile, it says har. Well inta’ the Elavatar’ which ya!” The Bookman checked of a box in his leather book, and wrote a few notes down. “Next!” He yelled out in his hoarse, raspy voice. “Next, I say!” The lined moved forward a bit more, as the guard brought up a young girl, dragging her by the pit of her arm across the marble pavement. The sunlight glared off her shackles, forcing the Bookman squinted to read her collar. “Meledi.” He mumbled, after searching through the pages of his book once more. “Daughter o’ a whore, it says har’ and o’ rape to add.” He shook his finger at her from behind his book. “Got bad blud’ in ya,’ ya’ do. Don’ wan’ya’ growin’ up and doin’ ya’ mums work in ‘or proud city, now, don’ we, ya lil whore? Ya’ wanna ride in the Elevatar, Meledi?” The girl shook her head, her eyes somber and dark behind her long black hair. “No? Well to bad it ain’ ya’ choice, eh girly? Elevatar!” The Bookman gave a raspy chorus of laughter as he motioned her away. “Next!” There was a shout as the guards brought up the next prisoner, followed by a cry of pain as a gauntlet flashed in the sunlight. Blood flowed over her lips as she was dragged forward, staining them crimson. Her eyes burned fiercely behind her bangs, her entire being engulfed in blind rage as she struggled once more against her captors. One of them raised his arm to strike her, but she was too fast. Leaping up, she slipped her teeth into the depths of his helm, were she bit down into his ear, tearing it off as she clawed violently at his face, drawing long rivers of blood down his cheek. A pair of guards managed to pull her off, as the other swore violently, his hands clutching the side of his face, as his helm filled with his own bodily crimsons. The Bookman mumbled a curse to him self and unsheathed his knife. Standing, he stepped forward and press its edge against the woman’s’ throat. “Now listen har’ an’ ya listen gut.” He snarled at her. “If ya’ don’ behave yar’self, I’ll be forced ta’ cut ya.’ Or…” A smile split the Bookmans as he motioned at the guard face, revealing bone white teeth. “I might fin’ me’self cuttin’ a wing O’ two off yar’ lil’ friend here, ey?” He chuckled, the fat beneath his chin bouncing as a member of the guard brought forth a bird, hooded and bound in leather. The woman gritted her teeth and glared at the Bookman, then she gave in, her rage lost as her weight sagged into the arms of the guard as she submitted to their judgment. “A’right then. Bring ‘er here!” They dragged her over, over the marble tiles. Grabbing her by the chin, the Bookman forced her head up to examine her collar. He dropped her back down to open his book. They crackled like the flames of a fire as he scoured through their dry pages. “Ah-a! Here ya’ ar.’ Relyte is it? A wile-child’ it says here, and a haf‘bred too. Try to mug a coupla’ innocent sightseers, eh?” He returned to his book, and read out loud. “O’tempted murder o’ a citizen, robbery, und yar’ O’ filthy blood too. Says har’ ya’ got life in ‘xile.” He closed the book, and reached forward. Lifting her head up, he brushed her hair off her eyes. “Too bad, yar’ a cute one. ‘Ould’n mind haven’ ya’ in my bed me’self.” He let go off her face as laughter over came him and he motioned for her to be taken away. They dragged her, silently across the city square, to load her into the elevator, which stood in the center of the square, a giant birdcage wrought of black iron. It hung over a hole of darkness, a pit of despair that burrowed endlessly down, into the very heart of the mountain. A massive link of iron chain groaned like a dying beast as the elevator swayed in the wind. It was the middle of winter, but they loaded her into the cage with nothing more than her prison tunic. She wrapped her arms around her bird, which was struggled to preen through its bindings, and started pushing her way through the cage, towards the edge. Sitting down, she hung her legs over the side of the elevator, and then turned her hands to the bird, removing its hood and bindings. “You can go if you want, you know.” Her voice was clear and sharp, like a bell made of ice, but sadness echoed within its melody. “You don’t have to come with me, and they wouldn’t be able to catch you.” The bird turned it head to the side and stared back at her for a few seconds, its bright amber eyes reflecting her solemn face. It pushed its head forward, rubbing it beaks and feathers against her face, as it offered a soft ‘peep’ in condolences. She nuzzled it back, and kissed the bird upon its beak. “Alright, but you can say I didn’t let you go.” The bird peeped again in response and nipped her finger. Stroking her hand through its feathers, she began to sing, her voice rising up and beyond the air.

Sin and sorrow Pain till the end of days Bone and marrow Lying lifeless in the grave

Ill the wind blows Churning the faces Of the clouds that hide The sea

Nowhere and nevermore Twisted lies and memories Darkness consumes me As I cry my melody

Of sin and sorrow Of pain till the end of days

The wind began to pick up again, a cold stream of air that howled between the jagged mountains, and along the alleyways and streets of the city. It carried her voice even further into the sky, as her hair danced like black ribbons. It blew back, revealing pointed ears. The guard shoved in one last prisoner as the Bookman shouted, “A’right, it’s full! Let ‘em down!” The elevator jerked as the chain let loose, and it disappeared into darkness.

Sin and sorrow Paint till the end of days

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Chapter One: Meetings

Chapter One: Meetings

p<. 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.”

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Chapter Two (Part One)

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]

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