Rats of Airspur

Prologue: 'Opportunity knocks'

It’s a dry spell. Weeks have passed since the last proper job came through.

After another snippy little argument with Hargraine over money and just as Nick is starting to wonder if this city expects him to subsist on an honest living, a familiar (if not entirely welcome) face appears at the door – Hamel, a sharp-eyed, sharp-tongued, bandy-legged half-elf from Aglarond, and a local fixer of mixed reputation. Hamel might not be a ray of sunlight at the best of times, but Nick knows that he doesn’t pay social calls, and his palms start to itch the way they always do when there’s money present.

Hamel has a contract available. The Rats may not have been his first pick, but Hamel’s other contacts are unavailable, and he thinks they’ve got the skills to get the job done. He has info about a valuable delivery coming from the interior of Akanul, heading out by ship, and has good information about where the courier (and shipment) will be staying while in Airspur (a safe house in the Kythan), before the courier catches her ship out of the city. The courier has been smuggling raw gems out from an illegal mining operation at the glass mesa (an activity strictly forbidden by the Queen), and that Hamel’s contact wants the case full of stones – cut or uncut. After some haggling over pay, Nick’s mercurial charm met by Hamel’s clipped cynicism, an agreement is reached and Hamel leaves them with a deposit and a series of stern admonishments about the binding nature of the agreement. What an ass.

The Rats are gathered to discuss a heist…

Session 1: 'Trespass'

Surveillance is the first stage of the plan. The Rats scope out the safe house during the day – Nik inveigles his way into the company of the carpenters at a coffin maker’s workshop across the road, providing some entertainment for the workers for a few coppers and a crust of bread and some water at their lunch; Shackle takes some day labour nearby. A couple of armed men walk out of the house in the afternoon, and Tess tails them across to the Curzian where she observes a meeting with some swarthy looking sea-dogs. As the meeting ends, she tails the sailors across to the Delian ward, by the Docklands, where they saunter into a dingy little rope shop only to disappear into a back rooms. Under the calculating gaze of the shopkeeper, Tess unobtrusively heads back to the Kythan.

After establishing that the place is guarded pretty constantly, Tess gets Shackle to lift her up onto the roof at night so she could get a closer look. From above, Tessa has an easy view of the movements of the guards in the small courtyard below, quietly noting that there are at least six or seven rough and ready looking fellows active, even at night. She overhears a conversation between them, indicating that this rather hard-boiled crew are mercenaries, brought in by this courier – a human woman, called Charis. They confirm much of the intelligence given by Hamel, but with a significant divergence: they have been operating on the fringes of the Chondalwood, significantly further upstream from the Glass Mesa. One of them quietly says that he’ll be glad when they’re out of the Chondalwood because the elves are getting suspicious, and he’ll be even more glad when this entire job is over because these foreigners are vicious bastards, and they’ll be well free of them.

Prowling across the roof she finds a set of boarded up shutters that (when the nails are removed) allow easy entry into the attic space, and once there she is in her element. By carefully tracing the layout of the rooms by the wall spaces beneath the attic’s beams, she is able to guess at the location of the safe room at the defensible back room on the upper story. With some wriggling she is able to work herself into the wall cavity and, by carefully sawing through the plaster and wooden slats supporting it, she is able to gently push out a section of the wall and gain entry to the room. Finding a heavy cupboard with an imposing lock, she supposes that this will be where the shipment will be stored. She carefully prises out the nails in the back panel, but replaces it so that it can be moved easily. Feeling quietly smug at her preparations, she slips out and away, leaving no visible trace of her passage.

Cheered by the news of the easy passage into the safe house the Rats prepare for the other stages of their plan, finding a cabinet maker through mutual acquaintance who will be able to knock together a replica of the chest the gems will be shipped in, and a theatre propmaster who can produce rough replica stones from coloured glass.

Nik’s surveillance spots the courier arriving with her escort, three grim-looking Chessentan soldiers, a few hours ahead of their anticipated time. Notably they are carrying a small chest as they enter.

  • With Nik & Hargraine waiting in reserve in case things go poorly, Tessa & Shackle get up onto the roof of the safe house.
  • Just as they’re about to enter the attic, the crew of sea-dogs that Tess had previously tailed to the Delian Ward arrives at the gate, clearly unannounced. Nik’s well-travelled eye picks their kohl-eyed and beringed leader as a mendicant-priest of Calimshan, the others as a gold dwarf upper-world exile, a New Abeiran dragonborn warrior-pilgrim, and a sinister drow shadow-walker who trails silently behind. Without a doubt Nick decides they are not just sailors, but pirates.
  • From inside the attic, Tess & Shackle overhear as the courier greets the pirates warily, and enters a heated discussion with their leader. She takes the opportunity to complain (again, obviously) about the wasted time before their departure, but the pirate dissembles about tides and supply matters. He reassures her that they will deliver her as arranged by the appointed day – ‘Provided you’re not bringing anything… illegal with you, we won’t have any trouble.’ Charis tells them to stop fishing for information they don’t need, and just get her to the rendezvous as arranged. ‘You don’t need to worry about what I’m carrying.’
  • During this exchange Tess decides the discussion is sufficient distraction, and goes about the tense business of completing the burglary. She gains access again to the safe room and, as anticipated, finds the lacquered case in the cupboard she had prepared previously (along with some other minor loot to be covered later). She passes it up to Shackle and replaces all the panels to hide any trace of her passage. The pair carefully make their escape with the case of gems.
Session 2: 'Shell Game'
  • Getting back to the Nightwatch Emporium the crew gather over the case. Tess carefully picks the elaborate padlock, noting a hidden springe within it that she carefully deactivates. Inside they find a collection of uncut stones on a bed of velvet, glistening facets protruding from raw stone. As they look on, mesmerised, there is a pounding on the front door of the shop.
  • As Nik calls out to ward off the people at the door, the pounding turns to violent kicking. Hargraine and Tess scramble to hide the box, with Shackle moving his maul within easy reach, and the door splinters inwards. A couple of burly thugs muscle their way into the shop and Nik plays the aggrieved shopkeeper, until a third figure slips between them into the shop – Baronal, a sleekly menacing human, known as a well-connected lieutenant of the Curzian Collegium, with a reputation for playing with his ‘food’. Baronal wonders aloud if Nik has any work on, as he eyes the nonchalant goings on in the workshop, and expresses his concern that Nik might be forgetting his old friends at the Curzian. Nik protests that times are slow, and Baronal seems to accept this, though as he leaves he ‘invites’ Nik to visit the Curia sometime soon. The Collegium men withdraw
  • After a judicious delay, Tess and Hargraine remove the case and the gems to the counterfeiters, who begin work immediately.
  • Not long after dawn, Nik slips out of the shop and heads back to the coffin-maker’s shop in the Kythan to keep an eye on the reactions of the Courier and her men. At mid-morning he overhears an uproar from within, and after a time one of the courier’s Chessentan escort crosses the street and, after dropping a handful of coins, demands all the workers (and Nik) leave. His manner is menacingly impatient and with their pockets full of money the carpenters need little other motivation and remove themselves promptly to a local tap-house.
  • Back at the Emporium, Shackle tries to sleep, but is repeatedly interrupted. When Hargraine returns with the stones, however, he comes to see them – even Hargraine is forced to admit the replicas are uncannily good, enough that some care has to be taken to ensure they are not mixed up with the genuine stones. Tess returns with the counterfeit box, which is a good likeness for such short notice (though the lacquer is still very slightly tacky to the touch). They place the two sets of stones and cases into the secret cache, the original gems in the replica box, the replica gems in the original box, as Beckett asks for Shackle’s help in resolving a problem in the shop.
  • In the shop a small fat man sets his jowls a-quiver as he stamps his feet in apoplectic rage over being sold <<some>> that he feels is a fake and keeps shouting even as he shrinks away from Shackle’s terrible grin. As he retreats back through the door the little man gives a dire threat of legal action before slipping away like a crab under a rock. Nonplussed, those left behind take the opportunity for some rest.

  • Nik spends a pleasant lunch at the taproom in the Kythan, singing some jaunty gypsy numbers with his squeezebox, and enjoying the company of the carousing workers. When the Chessentan soldiers appear outside and start working their way through the gathering, asking questions in their own inimitable style, the crowd quiets and eyes them warily.
  • As Nik tries to wait patiently for the soldiers to reach him he is recognised, out of the blue, by a previous business contact – one Keldrin Sim, a nervy eladrin scribe who had previous had Nik ‘retrieve’ some books for him from the librarium at which he worked. Sim expresses slightly overblown pleasure at the meeting, while Nik tries to keep an eye on the marks. With pantomime secrecy Sim explains he has been meaning to search Nik out anyway, as he has a job he could use some help with – and he’ll pay well for it. Nik finally fobs Sim off demanding some wine before discussing any business, just as one of the Chessentans works his way over. The Chessentan interrogates Nik over a stolen item, demanding information roughly, and Nik plays him like a fiddle – convincingly portraying a man who could find things. With dismaying predictability he is hauled off by the two soldiers to help further with their search, back to the safe house.
  • At the Chessentan safe house Nik is closely interviewed by the courier Charis, who proves a near intractable mark, but eventually Nik is able to convince her of his worth by mentioning he had heard about a drow that had been lurking in the area over the past few days, recognisable as one of the pirates he had seen at the safe house the night before. In the course of the conversation Charis reveals a bit more information about the smuggling operation, but nothing more than Nik had known already. Nik closes the interview by agreeing to use his contacts to try to find the case for a modest fee, though the courier insists that he take one of the Chessentans with him – the looming half-orc Maagar. Reluctantly, Nik acquiesces and they set out, but as they do so he overhears a last comment by Charis about the drow that suggest the pirates may be part of the Firestorm Cabal.
  • Nik goes through the motions of a long investigation, questioning contact after contact and taking copious notes until eventually he hits the limits of even Chessentan focus, and Maagar’s attention slips. Nik takes the opportunity to write a quick set of instructions, which he then passes to Hargraine at a pre-arranged meeting place. He asks Hargraine to gather Shackle, and be ready for action. After a long route, he has a stool pigeon drop the information that a young thief supposedly has some case he’s trying to offload in a hurry – Nik knows just the scum who’d buy it, too.
  • Tessa arrives at the Prasek’s Pawnshop, a long term rival of Nik’s, in the guise of a young thief trying to offload a case of jewels in a hurry (selling the replica gems in the real box. After some difficult bargaining, she and the miserly Prasek hit upon a deal, but are interrupted bare moments after the coins hit the counter-top. Maagar charges in first, tailed closely by Shackle and Hargraine, only to watch as Tess vaults the counter (neatly palming Prasek’s gold as she passes), gathers up the case again and tumbles through the narrow window.
  • Maagar, Shackle, Nik and Hargraine give chase after Tess through the misty alleys of the Curzian, narrowly ahead of Prasek’s goons. As both groups burst out into the open at a 5-way intersection of alleys, they find Tess caught flat-footed by a rather surprised looking Baronal, and his crew of Curzian Collegium cut-throats who are gathered together at the benches at the front of a streetside tavern, drinking and gaming together. There is a moment of quiet confusion as the three groups eye each other, and the wary looking Tess caught between them.
Interlude 1: 'Interruption'

“Well, now… what have we here?”

Baronal stood up with easy confidence. As he stepped out into the open space of the junction the other Curzian men rose one by one from their benches to fall in behind him, leaving their drinks and laughter on the tavern’s terrace behind them. Tessa, as the young thief, backed slowly away as the sleek lieutenant approached.

The half-orc Maagar stamped forward, spitting out his words like caustic gravel. “That case it’s mine – stole it this little poustis did!”

As Nik rushed to interpose with the furious Chessentan, Prasek, the little pawnbroker puffed up and turned red. His voice quivered with indignation as he stepped forward from the other side of the intersection: “No sir, don’t listen – it’s my case! I paid good money for it – and then he stole it!” He threw out his hand to point at Tessa as though sighting down the shaft of an arrow.

Baronal made a chopping motion to quiet the two angry rivals.

“Now, Boy,” he addressed Tessa sternly, “Perhaps you could tell us which of these men is telling me the truth?” All eyes turned to the young Thief, who stood poised for flight in the middle of the three groups.

Tessa flicked a glance over her shoulders, and looked back to the dark-eyed lieutenant. “No…” she ventured, “No, it’s your case.” She gingerly placed the box at his feet. As she stepped away, she underlined her offering: “Sir.”

Session 3: 'Bait and switch'
  • Baronal laughs and his men take the box, and they head off towards the Curzian Collegium itself. Prasek fumes and Nik struggles to control Maagar – who has turned purple with rage and looks set to take on the full dozen Curzian brawlers on his own. Baronal indicates that he’s a fair man, and he recognises that at least one man there has been wronged – but he is, sadly, pressed for time and can’t stay to determine who it is. Instead he will provide ‘fair’ payment for the box, and they can work it out amongst themselves. He throws a handful of coins into the intersection and he follows his men out.
  • All hell breaks loose as Maagar pushes Nik over bodily and charges, bellowing like a speared bull. Prasek thinks he’s after the money and rushes in with his goons, blocking Maagar’s passage. A rather ugly brawl takes place, during which Tessa slips away. Nik and the others stick up for Maagar for a bit, swapping blows with Prasek’s goons but after Maagar bullrushes his way through the crowd and runs off after the Curzian men, they withdraw and leave Prasek to scrabble for the coin (though they make all kinds of bitter noises about it).
  • When the Rats reconvene (Tessa having discarded her disguise) they have offloaded both the box and the Chessentan, and they have secured the real stones in the imitation box. On top of all that, they figure that the coin purse Tessa filched from Prasek contained more than the amount Baronal tossed down. It’s hard not to feel smug.

  • Anticipating possible further trouble, Nik sends Tessa to cache the box of stones – along with some of the other valuables from the Night Watch pawnbrokers. Partly to complete his cover and partly to try and gather further information, he takes Shackle with him off to the Kythan to contact the Chessentan courier Charis.
  • At the Chessentan safe house, Shackle is made to wait in a front room but Nick is called through. Nik reports that the Curzian have the box and Maagar went off after them, and the remaining Chessentans immediately start to gather their weapons and armour – clearly intending to attempt a raid on the Collegium itself. After some fast talking, Nik convinces them to allow him to negotiate on their behalf – to try to buy back the case, rather than take it by force. Though they are clearly uncomfortable with such an uncertain scheme, the Chessentans agree to his proposal. It’s Nik’s turn to be uncomfortable when they display a remarkable lack of interest in the price, making nearly 600 gold pieces available immediately and indicating they could obtain more… though the way they say they’d prefer not to suggest fairly unpleasant possibilities. Doing some quick sums in his head, Nik decides to offer 100 gold, with a view to being talked up to 200 or so. He warns the Chessentans that he expects Baronal will wish to meet with them personally to carry out the trade. They remain very reserved about the idea, but send him off to plead their case.
  • Back at the Night Watch, a fidgety Hargraine is interrupted in his busy work when the shop door is opened and one of the display shelves tipped over noisily. Hearing a noise like a lowing animal he parts the curtains into the shop cautiously, finding a grisly scene in the moonlight. There on the shop floor is the grievously wounded Maagar, crawling through the wreckage of the shelves with his crippled legs dragging behind him. As he crawls he leaves a slick of glistening blood, from his innumerable gaping wounds. In addition to some terrible deep gashes, he positively bristles with crossbow bolts – most embedded in his chest and shoulders – and there is about two feet of spear shaft protruding from one thigh, which he has lashed down against his leg with torn cloth. Maagar groans again and reaches out one hand towards Hargraine. Clutched in his fist is a shred of clothing – by the colours it is a piece of a Curzian uniform…
  • Nik, wandering through the alleys of the Curzian Mills district becomes aware of a commotion ahead of him – smoke, shouts, running footsteps. He has a sinking feeling that something here has gone very, very wrong indeed.
Session 4: 'Public nuisance'
  • Nik, when arriving the plaza which the Collegium faces onto, finds a chaotic scene lit by leaping flames. One corner of the Collegium itself is fully ablaze, and a throng of locals – not just the Curzian men, but everyone from the neighbourhood – and they’re all labouring to contain the fire. A bucket chain has formed, pulling water from the nearby waterfront. There are others carrying prostrate bodies out of the smoke, and a little triage area to one side. There is shouting on all sides and people running to and fro – some fleeing the area, some charging to help. Through the smoke Nik catches a glimpse of one of the other Curzian lieutenants shouting orders furiously – the vicious hook-handed half-orc Fesk.
  • Nik finds out, probably by asking amongst the smoke-stricken group huddled against a wall across the plaza, watching the fire, that there was an actual attack on a group of Curzian men, that carried along the streets and ended up at the Collegium itself, and that ended up causing the fire. Reports vary on the number of assailants, and some guesses are that it was one of the other Collegia straying into Curzian territory, one rumour does have it that there was some kind of valuable item at the heart of the attack.
  • Finding one Curzian man catching his breath, Nik shares a drink with him. He determines that even they don’t know precisely what happened before the fire – just that there was a running skirmish along the street, which turned into a complete rout at the plaza. Expecting safety on home turf, there was panic as the attack continued into one of the several tavern-entrances to the Collegium. Curzian reinforcements were called in with better weapons, but that just made the fight uglier. It ended with a lit oil lantern, a heavy brass storm lantern no less, being smashed over the head of one of the Curzian men, which started the blaze almost instantly. The assailants retreated at that point, the last anybody saw of them was an injured man who ran out carrying an ornate box.
  • The Curzian man who was felled with the lantern was Baronal, who is still unconscious and may not recover.

  • Hargraine stabilises Maagar’s condition, then busies himself washing the trail of blood that leads to the Nightwatch Emporium, noting that it leads clear down to the canal. Over the rooftops he can see the threads of two large fires within the Curzian district. Shackle arrives while he’s cleaning up, and Hargraine sends him off to find a proper healer. Concerned about the half-orc’s presence, he uses an old hedge magic trick to send an animal messenger to Nik to let him know the complication.
  • Not long after getting Hargraine’s message, Nik finds the only one of Baronal’s men who is still alive and conscious, and he does little but mumble something about taking a box from Prasek. Nik does what he can to reinforce the rumour about ’Prasek’s Box’ and then makes himself scarce, heading back to the Nightwatch. When he gets back he uses his gypsy arts to salve the worst of Maagar’s wounds, but is furious at the path of destruction through his home turf.
  • Maagar only regains consciousness once, for just long enough to croak out the message that he had been surprised by Prasek’s men while already badly injured and escaping with the box. Maagar barely managed to kill one before he was brought down and they dropped him, unconscious, into the estuary. He passes out again with Nik shaking him by the shoulders and screaming about Prasek.
  • Furious, Nik leaves for the Chessentan safehouse immediately, and Maagar is dragged down into the cellar. Nick tells Charis what Maagar had said, and the Chessentans gear up to go find Prasek, despite Nik’s attempts to talk them out of further mayhem. He tries to counsel them to blame Prasek and Maagar together, but they dismiss the idea out of hand – it becomes abundantly clear that they’ve no problem burning their bridges in Airspur. Charis expresses her sympathies for Nik’s unhappiness – she regrets the situation got so out of hand, but doesn’t feel she has any alternative but fast and brutal options. Fully armed and doggedly single-minded, they leave to retrieve Maagar from the Night Watch, and to track down Prasek. Nik heads back to the Nightwatch, exhausted and dispirited, vowing never to deal with Chessentans again.
  • As the uneasy night rolls on, Tess dangles her legs over the edge of a tiled roof, looking down at the commotion in the street below her. In her eyes there glints the reflection of the conflagration that was once Prasek’s pawnshop. Smiling wanly, she swings herself easily up to her feet and walks away over the roftops without a backward glance.
Session 5: 'Bread crumb trail'
  • Hamel arrives early the next morning, eager to take the case and be off. Nik pushes to meet whoever paid the contract, but Hamel diverts him, and they get back to haggling over the fee. Nik makes Hamel aware of the trouble with the Chessentans, but Hamel shows a pointed lack of interest, warning only that it’s dangerous to get too heavily involved with these marks. He takes his box and departs, leaving the payment in a fat pouch in Nik’s hands.
  • Having had little luck discussing business with Nik at the Kythan Taproom the day before, Keldrin Sim comes to visit the Nightwatch with a bundle of papers under his arm. The Rats are divvying up their ill-gotten gains, but Nik clears them out of the way and steers Sim into his office. After some rather uncomfortable pleasantries the young eladrin plucks up his courage and lays out his proposal: he wants Nik to help him break into the ancient catacombs of the Kythan district, to retrieve a cache of lost texts from the hidden sanctum of a long forgotten cult. Nik pantomimes a struggle with his conscience over both violating the sanction on passage to the catacombs, and the robbing of tombs in general, but allows himself to be talked round with the promise of a higher fee than their last job – and of priveliged access to whatever other valuable relics they may come across in the sanctum. The ever eager Sim wants to begin as soon as possible and, with the violence of the previous night in the Curzian still unresolved, Nik is inclined to go along with that – if only to keep him and the Rats out of sight for a while.
  • After a day of preparation, the Rats meet Sim that night in the Kythan – armed and ready for trouble. They sneak past the Kythan collegium’s sentries with little difficulty and, at around midnight, Sim breaches the appropriate gate of the catacombs, and they enter cautiously.
  • Sim explains that he has discovered a hidden key to navigating the catacombs to the hidden Sanctum. The singing runes scattered through the maze, which activate and glow when approached, can be activated in a certain sequence, and the hidden entrance will be revealed. When they locate the first of the runes they come across one of the zombies that infest the tunnels. Though the creature is easily dispatched, the noise of its death rattle attract the attention of its ravenous kin and the Rats are set upon by howling undead.
  • They defeat the mindless creatures with no serious injury. Though some of the gloss of the enterprise is lost by the frantic encounter, it is regained when Sim completes the activation sequence and the secret path to the sealed inner maze is opened. They go deeper…
Interlude 2: 'Exposition'

They walked in single file down the twisting corridors, lamp light gleaming on the rough-cut stone walls, trickling with seeping moss.

Tess paced ahead restlessly tracing the route Sim had described. She was a tenuous figure, only barely visible in the swinging light, but Hargraine stalked along behind her confidently, enjoying himself more than he would likely admit. Shackle stumped along behind them, his bulk moving with surprising economy, his massive maul swinging easily in his massive fist.

Keldrin Sim, their unlikely employer, held the lantern as he followed close behind Shackle, describing the circumstances of his felicitous discovery…

“When it came into the scriptorium, I didn’t think much on the Song of the Traveller – to be sure it was a fine old codex, and valuable to collectors just by its survival through the spellplague, but the text itself held little interest. The Song itself is an old ode which was unattributed to any particular poetic tradition of its time, but had commonly been seen as an allegory for the movements of the constellations. It is not seen as a particularly worthy document though, as any significance to the advance of astronomy was discredited long ago, as it fails to follow any recognisable sequence of precession – observed or predicted.
It was not until I was called upon to produce a copy of the Analects of Atian that something clicked – in his treatise on the time of the ancient kings of this land he tells of a mythical figure known as the Kythan Oracle, and refers to the Oracle as ‘Delios the Traveller’. As I read more of Atian’s account, I became more and more certain that this Delios was the Traveller of the Song – that the constellations describe something other than simply the lights of the sky, that they described something infinitely more earthly.”

He gestured around them, the carvings on the rough stone spoke his meaning. Shackle trudged on implacably, and Sim hurried to keep up with his enormous stride.

“Long ago, you see, this was a holy place. This was before the Abolethic menace and the orc incursions, before the arrival of the Genasi. This place was the temple-maze of the Kythan Oracle, who looked down from the cliffs to the proud city below – the city whose utter ruin in spellfire and cataclysm would pave the way for the founding of Airspur.
Blessed with mystic sight, the Oracle would read the future in the stars, seeing in that great dance of the heavens the cosmic forces that shaped our world. But, for all his great knowledge, Delios made a mistake – when he foresaw the downfall of his world, he spoke of it aloud. The King of his time was a noble ruler but feared for his crown and his people, and was angry at the threat he saw in the Oracle’s words. He ordered that the Oracle admit a mistake and withdraw his false prophecy, or he would find death not long after. Delios was haughty though, and refused to retract even a single syllable.
In the Analects, Atian describes how Delios ascended to his dais one last time and delivered a final prophecy to the people – a prophecy of doom piled upon doom and then, evading the King’s men, he disappeared below to be swallowed by his great maze never to behold the stars again. Soldiers were sent to find him there, but no path could be found through the endless tunnels. The search was given up soon enough anyway, as before even a single moon had waxed and waned the skies were darkening over the Sea of Fallen Stars, and the terrible fate that Delios foretold was upon them all.”

Sim shivered. The mottled walls threw strange, suggestive shadows around them. Shackle walked on and Sim resumed his story.

“The ages that followed were not kind to this land: the seas rose and fell and the very rock moved underfoot. Time passed and Delios the Sage was all but forgotten. The holy maze became at times a shelter, a store, a prison and, finally, a burial vault. Century upon century, our ancestors would creep into the tunnels and lay their dead to rest, the singing runes of Delios lighting their way.
I believe the undead came later, that some other malignant thing slipped in and claimed the halls for itself, and despoiled the graves for its own ends. These wretched horrors bear not the mark of proud Delios, who is said only to have admitted into his close company a hound of three mouths and three names: Am-Geth the Hidden, Uth-Oom the Fierce, and Na-Shub the Radiant. The Cult of Delios lingered on, I believe, beyond the fall of the kingdom – secretly passing through the maze and tending their master in his Sanctum. That the Song of the Traveller is unattributed is no surprise then, as they would have needed to…”

Sim broke off as Shackle rounded on him suddenly, huge bulk blocking nearly the whole corridor.

“Wait,” rumbled Shackle, “Are you for real?”

They stood silent for a moment, looking at one another in a moment of tense uncertainty in the tilting lantern light.

“You’re really serious?” the giant continued, “All this time you were talking to me?”

Sim’s mouth opened his mouth, but no reply came.

He closed his mouth again and coloured deeply, seeming to shrink down into himself. He mumbled “Nevermind” under his breath and squeezed past hurriedly.

Shackle stood silent and watched Sim scurry away up the corridor. Shaking his head in disbelief, he resumed his stolid march.

Behind him, in the dim light of the retreating lantern, all that could be seen of Nik was the sharp gleam of his unmistakable grin.


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