Words of Fate: Monsters of the Past. (Issue 2)

Buildings shimmered sickeningly outside the window of a second floor room of an inn called The Rose and Thorn. The distant towering wall of Moorenda’s inner city was little more than an indistinct blur. Sytheis Tia Menrha stood by the window staring out at the city beyond. The sun hung heavily in the sky and only the most determined of people were out in the streets unnecessarily. The days were only getting hotter it seemed and Sytheis had no intention of leaving the shade of his rented room.

He studied his reflection in the glass for a moment, running a hand through his sweat-slick blond hair before slumping back into the chair at his desk. Papers lay scattered all across the surface and words were scrawled across every piece. Some of it was his own work while others belonged to other tellers or bards. He grouped them all together into a category that he liked to call ‘the competition’.

At the top of the pile was Moorenda’s most popular Venndi news pamphlet The Stag. Most of the issue was dedicated to the battle that had taken place outside of the city on what was now referred to as Queen’s Hill several days back. The centrepiece of the pamphlet was written by none other than Sytheis himself. It had been written under a pen name to avoid awkward questions but all of the coin had gone into his pocket. It was pure propaganda filled with buzzwords and emotive phrases but with little depth. This was what sold best though.

He had also sent another version to a Chalemite teller under a different name that outlined the events of the battle in a grim, unflattering light. It had been a commission from the queen of Chalem herself and had paid well. It was that bloodsoaked retelling of the battle that had allowed him to rent this room within a good district of the city.

Absently he flicked through the pamphlet, skimming over the pages about the battle and its political implications, until a rough sketch caught his eye. It depicted some kind of large animal lurking in the shadows. The artist had tried to make it appear terrifying while applying only the vaguest of detail to what the creature actually was. He read through the accompanying writing with growing interest.

 

Warning to all. It is advised that none should enter the sewers of the city due to fears of an unknown beast. Eyewitnesses have described seeing a large creature roaming the tunnels but no physical evidence has yet to be found to identify what the creature could be. I reached out to the Governer Zarnod who is the head of waste management in Venndi Moorenda but he was quick to reassure people that the sewers have been searched and that there is nothing to cause alarm within them. We ask that if anyone has any information about this creature that you come forward to The Stag.

 

This wasn’t the first that he had heard about a possible menace below the city. The taverns had been filled with such talk for days now. It wasn’t even the first time that the tellers had mentioned it. The problem was that the only witnesses weren’t reliable. No right minded person wandered through the sewers other than workers so those who reported seeing this strange beast were usually beggars, drunks and addicts. 

It had certainly captured the public’s imagination though. Were someone to get an exclusive insight into the truth of the matter then there was a lot of money to be made. The sewers would be a damn sight safer than dealing with royalty and battles too. It all sounded easy enough.

Sytheis’ goals in life were simple: to achieve fame and fortune with the minimal effort possible. That plan had backfired instantly when his idea of eavesdropping on a political negotiation resulted in him killing a guard and getting embroiled in a plot to kill a queen. He had survived though and learned his lesson. Kings and queens were unpredictable and quite frankly insane so he should stick with day to day issues. Find the source of tavern talk, disprove the outlandish tales and reap the profits.

This was his chance to make a name for himself. The two chronicles of the Queen’s Hill battle had paid well but had not worked a jot toward the fame part of his aspirations. He had already been asking around and was confident that one of the many letters on his desk offered the perfect lead. 

He had been pointed in the direction of a Banndnori stonemason who helped to maintain the Banndnor sewers. Where Venndiotti and Charem saw sewers as an ugly necessity, Banndnor saw the sprawling tunnels as a kind of art, well built and functional like everything that their people built. If anyone was to know everything that he needed about the sewers it would be him.

Throwing his journal and writing case into a small pack and sliding the long bladed dagger that Queen Zaphine had gifted him into his belt he looked once more out of the window. It didn’t look any cooler than before. He could pass on the meeting with the man, send a letter explaining that he was ill. The more than likely fictional creature would not be going anywhere. Even as these thoughts were going through his head, Sytheis had left the window and moved toward the door. He did not yet have the money to be able to turn down work and that was that. 

Sytheis left the inn and was immediately hit by a wave of heat. He walked slowly, keeping as much to the shade as he could as he made has way through the regimented streets in the direction of the north eastern wall that separated the Venndiotti and Banndnor sections of the city. Even so, he quickly became drenched in sweat and regretted his decision to leave. 

He passed by few people on the way to the tall stone wall that divided the city. Guards stood watch over the gateway through the wall who looked utterly miserable. Sweat dripped from them and they were red faced and panting for breath. They barely registered Sytheis as he passed them by. Looking at them, he reaffirmed to himself that honest work was a thankless and unforgiving way of life.

Beyond the wall, the city’s landscape changed dramatically. Tall grandeur and squalid hovels that made up the Venndiotti streets gave way to squat structures of stone as far as the eye could see. There were no small pathways or districts but a series of long, wide roads of paved slabs that were flanked by row after row of the grey dwellings. 

The streets were completely empty. Banndnor covered all of the northern lands of Eyen so its people would be more comfortable in snowy climates. This heat must have been unbearable for them. Sytheis had heard that no Banndnori went outside during the summer noon day period but had not believed it until now. 

Finding his way to the meeting place was surprisingly easy, to the point where Sytheis assumed that it was impossible to get lost in a Banndnori city. The house in question looked the same as every other that he had seen. He knocked and after a moment a well built man with a bald head opened the door.

“You the teller?” he asked.

Sytheis offered him a bow. “Sytheis Tia Menrha at your service. I am a teller, among other things. Thank you for agreeing to speak with me.”

“It is no problem,” the man told him. He stepped aside to allow Sytheis inside.

The interior was nothing like what Sytheis had imagined from the outside. The frame of the building itself was little more than a reception area with the main bulk of the house being underground. Banners and paintings covered the cold stone walls and candles burned in braisers that flooded the space with warm light. Even with the fires it was cooler than outside.

The Banndnori introduced himself as Grata Tillor as he led Sytheis down to a room with a large stone table at its centre. A younger man was seated there with short black hair and a similar build to Grata.

“This is my son, Fortas. He maintains the sewers like me and will be your guide. It was on his insistence that I agreed to see you.”

The younger man stood and shook Sytheis’ hand. He looked to be ten years Sytheis’ senior and had clearly spent his life doing hard labour. His skin was leathery and his manner reserved but purposeful. 

They all sat at the table and Grata poured out steaming mugs of blackleaf for them all. The taste was bitter but relaxed the mind and muscles.

Sytheis got straight down to business. “As you both know, I am investigating rumours of this sewer dwelling beast. I’d like access to all of the tunnels so I can explore the place and find the root of all the stories. Do either of you know anything about our shadowy friend?”

Both men frowned. It was Fortas who finally answered. “Yes. I have seen… something down there. We are discouraged from speaking of such things without evidence though. Overseers says it spreads panic.”

Sytheis raised an eyebrow. “You’ve actually seen it? What did it look like? Where was it?” he pressed excitedly. Proving the rumours false would calm the city’s fear but proving them to be true would set the tellers ablaze. People would throw money at him for information.

“I said I’d seen something,” Fortas replied defensively. “I don’t rightly know that it was a dangerous animal. There was movement in a patch of shadows down beneath the industrial quarter. I heard a hissing. Went to check what it was and the darkness seemed to pulse. Then it seemed to rear out at me. I felt the air be displaced and shielded my eyes. When I opened them a moment later, there was nothing in the shadows. Whatever it was could have killed me but it didn’t.”

“Interesting,” Sytheis muttered. He had his journal out and was taking notes. “What kind of animals frequent the sewers?”

“Rats,” answered Grata gruffly. “Lotsa rats. Get a few other things occasionally. Stray dogs, lizards and the like. Never anything like what Fortas saw.”

“Can you show me where you saw it?” Sytheis asked the younger Tillor. 

The man nodded. “Of course. You wish to go now?” 

“Yes. The quicker that this problem is dealt with, the safer we will all be,” Sytheis said in his most noble voice. His real hurry was that other tellers would have had the same idea and could scoop the story out from under him if he dallied.

Fortas readied himself then led the way from the house toward the industrial district. Banndnor was famous for its blacksmiths and other craftsmen. The workshops were all grouped together but like the rest of the city, the streets here were empty. The forges were cold and the anvils were silent. 

They passed by several grates that were set into the centre of the roads until Fortas came to a stop at one opposite a dyers shop. He had a special tool to open the metal cover then directed Sytheis down the ladder with a large lamp. Once the wordsmith was down, Fortas joined him, sliding the grate back into place before descending fully.

Darkness consumed the tunnel, only abated by the flickering flames of the lantern which cast distorted shadows across every surface. Sytheis could see how easy it was to grow paranoid now. Filthy water stood up to his ankles and the stone walls were coated in a foul layer of slime and moss. Every drop of water or distant bang echoed noisily through the tunnels making it impossible to pinpoint where the sounds originated. The smell was horrendous but it was thankfully cool compared to the above world.

Fortas knew the tunnels well and was able to lead them through the dank passages without trouble. He explained that he had been down there to repair a damaged wall when he had seen the creature. It was only a short walk until he stopped beside a corner that looked the same as every other that they had passed.

“This is the place,” he said quietly. He held up the lantern to flood the corner with light and Sytheis moved closer to examine the crumbling stone.

“What damaged the wall? Is there anything beyond it?”

“An alchemist had his lab in the basement of a building above. Was trying to turn lead into gold apparently but all he managed to create was an explosion. Destroyed the building and caused damage to the walls down here. There is another tunnel at the other side but any gaps are too small for an animal to fit through.”

There were no obvious signs that anything had been there. There were no bodily fluids, tufts of fur or scratch marks. Not that Sytheis knew what he should be looking for. He was observant of the smaller details by trade but that was not to say he knew what he should be observing. 

“Have you been to the adjacent tunnel?”

“No. This is my first time back down here since I saw the beast.”

“Let’s have ourselves a look then.”

They continued through the passage until it turned back on itself to run alongside the tunnel they had just travelled. That branch of the sewer ended in a dead end of pale stone that bore no moss. Fortas found the damaged section of wall easily but Sytheis was drawn to the contrasting wall.

“Are we below the inner city?”

Fortas joined him. “Not quite. We built our sewers around those of the Dreknori. Their walls are almost impregnable. The time and manpower to carve through their stone was just not worth it. Those that did first break through died of poison spores.” He turned back to the other wall. “Can’t see any sign of the beast this side either.”

He was right, as far as Sytheis could tell. There was nothing to suggest that anything bigger than a rat had passed through the tunnel in years. Sytheis was about to tell Fortas to take them back to the surface when the other man held up a hand for silence. In the distance came distorted voices. They grew clearer and louder until footsteps could be heard too. Sytheis drew his knife and Fortas gripped a hammer tightly.

“It ain’t here. We’ve checked everywhere and there ain’t nothing but shit, rats and rat shit. It ain’t real.”

“Bibbi saw it. He ain’t got the imagination to make it up.”

“Nah, but he had enough cheap wine in ‘im to make a rat’s shadow look like a hound of the gods.”

Light appeared further down the tunnel, followed by five men in rough clothes. They all carried hatchets, clubs or daggers and looked no strangers to a brawl. They stopped when they saw Sytheis and Fortas. Both groups stood staring at the other in a tense standoff. Fortas was the first to break the silence.

“I am Fortas Tillor of the Banndnor Masonry Guild. Why are you here? This is restricted land.”

One of the men grinned showing yellowed teeth. He had a crooked nose and bore several scars across his face. “Don’t give a shit who you are and you shouldn’t give a shit where we are if you know what’s good for you, builder boy. We’re here on business. Business that serves the greater good.”

“You know, boss,” a little man with a face that looked like it had been beaten with a shovel at birth said. “Down here, nobody can hear any screams. We could take what they have and, if anyone cares to ask, blame the beast.”

The scarred man nodded. “You raise a good point, Kell. I think you’ve got the right idea.”

Sytheis was thinking fast. “You hunt the beast? Kill it and claim a reward?” he said to buy them time.

“Aye. Not that it matters to you,” said Kell. “We’ve searched every inch of the Venndiotti and Chalem sewers and found nothin’. There ain’t no beast so we’ll have to make our money from you.”

“The beast is real! I swears it!” whined a grubby man with long hair. 

“Shut it, you drunken bastard. It’s your fault that we’ve spent all these days tramping around this stinking shitpit.”

Bingo. “Your friend is right. A beast is down here. We’ve seen it. That’s why we’re here. We’ll find it again and kill it ourselves.”

“You two? Kill the beast?” laughed the scarred man coldly. “You have a knife and a hammer. That don’t look like two men who are prepared to fight a monster.”

Sytheis returned the contemptuous laugh. “That’s because we have brains. Everyone knows that the best way to hunt a dangerous beast is to find it when it sleeps and kill it without a fight.”

The scarred man frowned. “Perhaps we can find a use for you. Where is the beast then?”

Fortas shot a panicked look towards Sytheis but luckily bullshit was like a second language to the young wordsmith.

“Isn’t it obvious?” he said smugly. When nobody answered he pointed to the Dreknori wall. “The beast resides within the inner city’s sewers.”

“There ain’t no way in or out of there. We checked,” snapped Kell.

“The Dreknori built these walls. For all we know, there could be hidden doors all over the place. Think about it. The beast has been sighted in different parts of the sewers all across the city yet has never been found. The only way to cross the sewers unseen would be to use the Dreknori tunnels.”

The men mulled this idea over. If they tried to break down a wall, they would breath in the spores and Sytheis and Fortas could run. That was the plan. The scarred man was apparently smarter than he looked though.

“If folk ain’t already broken through then we won’t be able to. Kill them. We’ll just have to keep wandering ‘til it comes out of hiding again.”

The men grinned and started forward toward Sytheis and Fortas. Sytheis held up his hands placatingly. 

“Hold on, my good men. The inner city has entrances to its own sewers and I happen to have contacts with those on the inside,” he lied. “You see, I am a famous wordsmith who has been sent to chronicle the killing of such a terrible creature. I can get you into the inner city. You keep us alive and when you kill the beast, I will write of your deeds and make you famous across the three kingdoms. Your names will become legends.”

The scarred leader ran his tongue across cracked lips. He eyed Sytheis up and down before replying.

“I don’t trust you but your offer interests me. Nobody can enter the inner city without a pass and they are harder to get than a virgin whore. You deliver to us five passes and we have a deal. Your friend here stays with us though. If you don’t return, we take his possessions and dump his body in the biggest pile of shit we can find.”

Fortas tried to argue but the man cuffed him across the face. He turned pleading eyes upon Sytheis.

“Deal,” agreed Sytheis without a second thought. Any opportunity to get out of this situation was something that he would latch onto with heart and soul. Facing down five armed men in a sewer was far from ideal for him.

“Don’t think about betraying us. If you alert the guards then this fine gentleman will die,” the man hissed. He reached out with his dagger and held it at Sytheis’ throat. “That’s a nice knife you have. Looks expensive. I’ll be taking that. Think of it as a deposit until you return to claim it back.

Sytheis made no move as the man slid Xil’Ka from his belt and examined it. The light from the lanterns danced across its surface. He felt a spike of anger stab through him as the blade was taken but the point at his throat prevented him from doing anything more than swallowing his complaints.

“Now go. When you have the passes go to an inn called The Donkey’s Leg and ask the innkeeper for Rantier Zalnot. That’s my name so don’t forget it.”

He lifted the blade from Sytheis’ throat then shoved him away. Syheis didn’t need any further encouragement. He ran down the stream of filth as quickly as he could back to where they had entered the sewers. When he climbed the ladders and lifted the grate a wave of intense heat and like struck him. Combined with the fear and adrenaline already coursing through him, he flopped onto the road and lay there in a daze.

When he finally collected himself together he heaved himself into the shade of a building and sat with his back to the cool stone. A steady stream of curses escaped his lips. He needed to run, to get away. This city was nothing but trouble. He could find a nice little village and write about how pretty sunrises were and how colourful and fragrant a rose was. It had to be safer than being forced into battles or being held at knifepoint. He would return to his room, grab his things and go.

And leave Fortas Tillor to die? Sytheis didn’t know him. They weren’t friends. Why should he care? Because you were the reason he was down there. He was helping you. Would you leave anyone to be killed? said a persistent voice in the back of his head. He tried to quell it but the voice only got louder. 

“The bastard did take my knife,” he said aloud. “It’s a good blade. Gifted by a queen no less. A street thug doesn’t deserve it. Yeah. I should get it back. Somehow.” He sighed. “Bloody conscious. More trouble than it’s worth.”

He stood but had no destination or plan in mind. He’d need to gain access to the inner city, only nobody could enter without the blessing of the beggars. It was a strange circumstance that rested over the original Dreknori city. When the invaders were discovered to have died, all three kingdoms rushed to take control of it. While they all fought each other, homeless vagrants slipped in and made their homes there. Given the strength of the Draknori fortifications, none of the armies were ever able to break through and cast out the dwellers no matter how hard they pushed.

The gateway into the inner city laid in Venndiotti land so Sytheis made his way back past the dividing wall to his home country. It was impossible to lose your way to the Draknori city because of its sheer scale. The walls reared over the buildings of the three kingdoms and structures beyond it were taller still. In the heat, it looked like a ghostly mirage.

Skirting the Draknori wall was a wide moat that was crossed by a grand stone bridge that could let three carts side by side traverse it with ease. At its end was an equally wide set of stone doors with an intricate array of images carved into its surface. 

The walls were too high to climb, even with proper equipment, and there was no other known way inside. If Sytheis wanted to get in, he had no choice but to use the front door. That meant getting permission where kings and armies had failed. Some did get passes though. Doctors, craftsmen and the like were given access on occasion, but only at the beggars’ request.

Sytheis shrugged and took to the bridge. It was unguarded. A group of children played happily at the far end, running and laughing beneath the creation of a bloodthirsty race of warriors who threatened the very existence of Eyen. They parted to let him past yet still stuck their tongues out at him and called him childish names. He realised then that the fetid sewer water on his clothes combined with the heat probably made him reek something bad.

Unsure what else to do, he knocked on the giant door. Nothing happened. He knocked again then turned away. A grinding sound drew him back and he watched as a symbol of an eye turned then slid away. A dirty face looked down at him.

“What ye wantin’, mister?” said a nasally voice.

“Err. Can I come in?”

“Why?”

“I need to save someone’s life by going into the inner city sewers.”

“Seems an awfully strange way o’ savin’ someone. How’s that work then?”

“It’s a long story,” Sytheis tried.

“I sit here all day waitin’ for folk to come knocking. I ain’t in no hurry,” replied the beggar.

Sytheis tried a different line of conversation. “You have trouble with a creature in your sewers like the rest of the city?”

The beggar faltered a moment then replied defensively. “Maybe we dos, maybe we don’ts. What’s it to ya?”

Sytheis explained all that had happened since meeting Fortas. He had no idea what impact his words were having on the man but he was using everything he knew to persuade him to help. Part of a wordsmith’s job was to get people to do things that they might not normally consider.

“Araid I didn’t understand a lot o’ that, mister. Too many big words. I did understand that you need our help. Well, we like to help, providing Emperor Pinky agrees. I’ll take you to him on one condition. For any audience with him, Emperor Pinky demands an offering of your little finger.”

“My what?”

“You deaf? I said your little finger. You see, Emperor Pinky collects ‘em. Quick chop and jobs done. Painless once the agony fades.”

Sytheis subconsciously found himself stroking his little finger. Colour drained from his face. 

“That’s crazy. A finger is not worth paying to speak with anyone.”

The beggar shrugged. “You call, mister. Just means your buddy dies. No skin off my arse. Not that you need the finger anyway. You said you were a wordsmith. Few lines with a quill and folk hand over their coin. You don’t use that finger, do you?”

“Well, no. But-”

“Buts are full of shit. You don’t need it so you’re basically saying your pain is not worth a man’s life. That’s real cold, mister.”

Sytheis took a step back. He was beginning to think that running wouldn’t be such a bad idea. He shook his head and began to walk away. The children started to make clucking noises at him as he passed and moved their arms like chicken wings.

“Whose side are you even on?” he growled at them.

“The side that don’t smell like shit,” a freckled lad told him with an insolent grin.

Something inside Sytheis snapped. With a twisted smile, he grabbed the child’s shirt, lifted him up and threw him into the moat. The other children ran away screaming. Still smiling, he stomped back to the door. 

“Fine. See. I’m not a chicken. Dumb kids. What would they know?”

“You sure, mister?”

“Sure? Don’t I look positively sure?” Sytheis said through gritted teeth.

“Dunno, mister. You look like you might have sunstroke. It’s real hot out. Does strange things to a man’s mind.”

“Just let me in before I think this through.”

“As you say, mister,” said the beggar. 

He disappeared from the gap then the doors began to slide open. They moved slowly but made surprisingly little noise. When they were open just wide enough for him to fit through they came to a stop and Sytheis stepped inside. The doors started to close behind him but he didn’t notice. All of his senses were locked into childish amazement.

The inner city was unlike anything he had ever seen before. Words could not describe it, and that was something that Sytheis had not experienced since he was a young child. He had always known more words than had sense to know when to use them. Looking out at this foreign city made poetry fall flat and left him floundering for breath.

Grand spires thrust upward towards the heavens and a rainbow of colours jostled to enliven the imposing pale stones that formed every structure through stained glass windows and mosaic tiles. The basest of dwellings put the wonders of the Den-Al Ryelkin colleges to shame. Everything was twice the size of its regular counterpart and nothing looked quite normal. Tall, black leafed trees cast shade between the buildings while black bushes in the shapes of animals and other creatures mingled with statues in every direction. 

Sytheis was snapped from wonder by a clap on the back by the beggar’s gnarled hand. “Them Draknori sure knew how to build, eh? Shame about the murderin’ and enslavin’ really. And the fact they were monsters from another world. That’s what folk be sayin’ anyway.” He whistled and a young boy came scampering from a nearby building. The older beggar addressed the boy.

“Take this fellow to Pinky. Be quick about it,” he said.

“Will do, boss,” the boy answered with a mock salute. He grabbed Sytheis’ hand and pulled him off into the city. “The name’s Chipper,” he introduced enthusiastically. 

“Nice to meet you,” Sytheis said absently. Every street they passed introduced him to new splendors and curiosities. There were metal contraptions abandoned to time and wall carvings that told stories of conquest and evolution. Coloured streamers hung everywhere, swaying lazily in the faint breeze. 

From what Sytheis could tell, the inner city was laid out as simply as the Banndnor section, but where that part of the city was laid out in a square grid, the Draknori had laid out their buildings as a circle with streets that cut wedges through it until they met in the centre. A single, gargantuan tower stood in the central ring that spiralled up into the sky. 

It was that tower that Chipper was leading him to. “They say that the Draknori emperor lived there,” the boy explained happily. He seemed to enjoy revealing knowledge to others. “The beggars elect their first among nobodies and they get to live in there and call themselves emperor. Pinky is our current PN.”

“PN?”

“Prime Nobody. No kings or queens here. We’re a democracy here.”

“What’s a democracy?”

Chipper frowned as he thought how best to answer. “Well, you see… the beggars meet up and then they each get a vote for who they want to live in the tower. Whichever potential emperor offers them the most money gets their vote. Its simple really. Pinky has lived in the tower all my life.”

As they neared the tower, Sytheis had to focus his sight on the ground. Looking up at the lofty heights of the tower was making him feel sick, not to mention that it was hurting his neck to look so far up. The door was wide open. Inside was a spacious room that was completely empty except for an abundance of detailed wallhangings. opposite the door was another open doorway that led into what could only be an unused closet or pantry. 

Chipper crossed the room and beckoned Sytheis into the small space. Sytheis furrowed his eyebrows in confusion but followed the boy. The tiny room was only a few feet wide and was circular like the tower itself. Unlike everywhere else though, the floor here was made of wood. A brazier sat at the room’s centre that gave off a dull light. Above them there was no sign of a ceiling.

There was a lever in a hollow on the wall which Chipper pulled. A series of sounds started up all around them and a stone door dropped into place, sealing them into the room. The brazier was now the only source of light. A panel dropped down to cover the lever’s hollow then the ground began to shake. Sytheis almost yelped as the floor began to lift them up.

“Don’t be scared. ‘Tis only water that’s liftin’ us. Can’t say how it works but you move the lever to whichever level you want to be on then water comes and fills up below. The wood we’re stood on floats and is forced up so we move up the tower without botherin’ with stinkin’ stairs.”

Sytheis didn’t respond. Being in a small space while moving quickly upward left him feeling very uncomfortable. He would have huddled into a corner if there were any corners to huddle into. Instead he stood rigidly beside the brazier, keeping as far as he could from the walls.

After what felt like hours but was likely only minutes, the platform slowed then came to a stop at another open doorway. Chipper hopped out while Sytheis staggered after him thankful to be away from the device. The room that they entered was as empty as the one below other than a single wooden chair with a bundle of sheets beside it.

On the chair sat a man in ill-fitting clothes who was little more than skin and bones. He had a weathered face and yellowed hair that grew erratically across the top of his head. The clothes were all exquisitely detailed and stitched but were filthy and torn beyond repair. His eyes were milky and his teeth were near all gone.

“Emperor Pinky, got a man here wanting to speak with you. Three-Leg sent him through,” Chipper said to the man. He spoke with no more respect than he had to the gatekeeper or to Sytheis.

“Hmm? A visitor. Has he brought food?” the emperor asked without turning to look at them. He spoke in a high pitched voice. “Ah, forget about that. Come, come. It’s rare that I see folk any more.”

They approached the man and Sytheis bowed. This made Pinky chuckle uncontrollable. At the emperor’s prompt, Sytheis explain again why he was there.

“So you’ll be wanting my help then?”

“Nothing beyond passes and freedom to enter the inner sewers,” Sytheis answered.

Pinky made a whistling sound and tapped his chin thoughtfully. “You see, boy, we beggars don’t go into the sewers here. Across the rest of the city, sure, but underneath our feet is a labyrinth of passages across multiple levels. Folk go down there and never come back. We had mapped a short way in but men have even started to disappear from there too.”

“The beast?”

“Perhaps. There have been unsettling sightings. My cousin went down there to find out what was going on but he hasn’t returned yet. I think that I have an adequate solution for us all. I will let your dangerous friends into the sewers on the condition that you search for my cousin. If you also disappear then I don’t have to worry about you. If only these nasty men return, I kill them. If you all return without beast or cousin, I kill you all. Sound fair to you?”

“What is your definition of fair?”

“Something that works out perfectly for me,” Pinky answered with a knowing nod of his bulbous head. 

“Fine,” Sytheis agreed. He hesitated then nervously asked, “What about my finger?”

Pinky stared at him dumbly for a second. “Finger? Oh yes! I don’t actually do that. That would be pretty crazy, wouldn’t it? Mind, if you tell anyone else that little fact, I will collect. It stops too many folk trying to talk to me. I have ears everywhere and plenty who are willin’ to cut off a finger as you sleep. I have as many followers as there are rats and ducks in this city.”

“Ducks? I haven’t seen a single duck in Moorenda.”

“Are you blind? They’re everywhere. They’re always watching me, the little bastards. At night, they join forces with the pygmy bunnies who ride them and they’ll fly across the city stealing candles to place at their shrines to the dark gods. Never trust a duck.”

Gods! The man is insane, Sytheis thought. “Wonderful. I’ll keep that in mind,” he said aloud.

“Good man,” Pinky said approvingly. “You can go now. Chipper, tell Three-leg to give this man what he requires. Before that though, take him to see Meerkas. I think he will want to see this chap.”

“Will do,” grinned the boy. He grabbed Sytheis’ hand again and made to pull him back into the moving room. Sytheis locked himself in place.

“Er… Is there no other way down?”

“Sure there is,” said the emperor. “That door there.” 

Sytheis went to the door where Pinky’s crooked finger pointed and opened it. The world rushed into his vision to greet him. There was a small balcony that overlooked the expanse of the entire city, the fields outside and the forests beyond them. They were not at the top of the tower but they were high enough to lock down on even the tallest of the other buildings. Sytheis had never been half as high before in his entire life. He doubted if anybody other than those who had come to this tower had. There was no safe way down.

“You asked for a way down. Never mentioned still being alive at the bottom,” Pinky cackled.

Sytheis gave a disgruntled groan then followed Chipper back into the room. The boy adjusted the lever and the wooden platform began to gradually lower. Sytheis sat beside the brazier and closed his eyes. It didn’t help much. When the floor stilled he rushed out without wasting a moment. Chipper didn’t give him any time to collect himself though before he was led out of the tower and across the open ring to a strange looking bulbous building just opposite.

The inside was packed with people, most of which did not look at all like beggars. Desks and large printing presses littered the single open room that took up the majority of the room. The air smelled of fumes and ink.

“Wait here,” Chipper told him before running off through the crowd.

Professional curiosity took ahold of Sytheis. He moved from the doorway to have a look at what it was that the men and women were producing. Training and working as a wordsmith he had seen printing workshops before but never anything on this scale. A woman sat at a desk nearby with an array of paints and brushes. It appeared that she was painting a small portrait of somebody. Another desk contained dozens of sheets of papers with numbers scrawled all across them. A man jotted frantically, writing new numbers and arranging them in mathematical equations before circling or crossing them through.

He edged his way closer to the press until a sudden excitement flared up in his chest. Sytheis could see what was being printed and it caused him to feel a childish glee. This building was the production office of Klash cards.

Like a moth drawn to flame, Sytheis reached out to a freshly printed stack of cards when he heard someone speak his name. Chipper and a handsome blond haired man were approaching him. The man beamed at him with white teeth and shook his hand emphatically.

“Good day to you, sir. Sytheis Menrha was it? Excellent!” greeted the man loudly. “I am Meerkas Savoi, current head of the Klash guild. This beautiful building is the place where every card in legal circulation is designed and produced. Young Chipper here tells me that you are a wordsmith and that you are part of an expedition to hunt down whatever creature lurks in the sewers below.”

“That is the plan,” Sytheis answered unsteadily. 

Meerkas ploughed straight on the moment that Sytheis paused for breath. “In that case, I am glad that you came. You see, business needs growth. When my father created the first Klash cards thirty years ago we had nothing. In that time Klash has become the biggest pastime in all of Eyen. Everybody has a deck.”

“That leaves me with a problem though. Since everybody already has cards, fewer people are buying cards. Parents are passing cards onto their children and even the rarer cards are becoming common. We need to create new cards without diluting the quality name of the Klash brand. With that in mind, I want you to record any mighty warriors, fell beasts or skilled professionals and send the information on to us here. If you can get a clear description of this sewer beast then we will have a new card that peasants and nobles alike will clamour for.”

Awe and surprise flicked for a moment until they were crushed by Sytheis’ inherent sense of money. He cloaked himself in professionalism. “That is certainly a tempting proposal. What would be the compensation for the likely dangers involved in such a job. For the level of detail required to meet the high standards of your cards I would need to be very up close and personal with these warriors and beasts.”

“You will be well paid for any card that is directly created from your imput. A gold coin for each is our usual rate.”

It took all of Sytheis’ effort not to gape. A gold coin? That was a small fortune. Most people only ever dealt with copper coins in their day to day life. Fifty coppers went into a silver coin. For both accounts of the Queen’s Hill battle he had been paid just shy of three silver and that was bloody good for a day’s work. If it had not been the biggest event around the city with the two best selling news pamphlets in the city. A normal teller would be lucky to make that in a month. A gold coin was worth fifty silvers. That was over a years pay in a single coin. 

“Gold…each…”

Meerkas offered him a sly smile. “There is a lot of money in collectables, Master Menrha. Do we have a deal?” Sytheis didn’t trust himself to speak so he nodded. Meerkas took his limp hand and shook it again. 

Chipper took Sytheis from the building. The man was numb until rationality returned to him. He quelled the thoughts of possible wealth and tried to concentrate on the task at hand. They returned to the gatekeeper and he handed Sytheis the promised passes. 

Returning to the Venndi sector after the wonders of the inner city was like falling from paradise into a slum. He wanted to return to his room to write down all that he had seen but he knew that his first priority had to be to help Fortas. Instead, he pulled out his journal and jotted down notes as best as he could while walking the streets. 

The Donkey’s Leg was in a dark corner of Chalem land and catered for a rough looking crowd. It was dark inside despite the blinding brightness of the sun and the air hung heavy with the stink of sweat. Everyone within looked seconds away from shiving Sytheis. He hastened himself to the bar and called over to a scarred man who was pulling a pint.

“I’m here to see Rantier Zalnot.”

The barman continued his work without pause as he nodded in the direction of the stairs. “Zalnot has a room upstairs. Last room to the left.”

 Sytheis climbed the stairs and knocked on the door. “It’s me. From the sewers.”

There was a click and the door groaned open. Sytheis stepped inside. The room was tiny, little bigger than the small bed that Rantier Zalnot sat upon. The man looked perfectly at ease but he held a dagger in one hand and watched Sytheis like one might watch an unknown dog that frothed at the mouth.

“You got the passes?”

“Wouldn’t be here if I didn’t,” Sytheis answered as he held out the cards, spreading them like a fan in his hand so that the other man could clearly see them. He made no move to hand them over. “Where is the mason?”

“Safe. He’s with my lads just in case you decided to try anything stupid. Hand over the passes and I’ll fetch him to you. You have my personal guarantee that neither of you will be harmed. I might be scum but I still hold to my own sense of honour.”

Sytheis snapped the cards together and tucked them into his pocket. “I have a better idea. I want to go with you and document the beast’s death like I said before. Any reward is all yours, I simply want exclusive rights to the story of it. I can make you famous, give you legitimacy as hunters rather than street thugs. You get the passes, I get to trump the other tellers.”

Rantier gave a snort of laughter. “Most folk run from us when we give them the chance, not choose to follow us. If you want to see this monster that badly I won’t stop you. Yo follow my orders though and stay outta our way.”

With an uneasy alliance formed, the two men left the inn and walked to a nearby house that was looking rundown and dirty. The rest of Rantier’s gang and Fortas were inside enjoying a round of fried eggs and watery ale.

Fortas looked genuinely on the brink of tears when he saw Sytheis enter. “Master Sytheis,” he cried. “You really came back. I feared you would leave me here and run but clearly you are a man of great honour. Thank you!”

“Of course I came back,” Sytheis told him reassuringly. He turned to Rantier. “Insidently, where is my knife?”

The man named Bibbi passed the knife to Rantier. He studied it longingly before handing it to Sytheis.

“Its a real nice blade. Expensive looking. I won’t kill you or steal it from you but if you happen to die I am definitely taking it.”

“Won’t care much by that point,” Sytheis shrugged. He sheathed Xil’Ka, feeling a strange sense of relief that the blade was back in its rightful place.

“Right. Back to business. Give us our passes now. We should all get some sleep then meet tomorrow morning on the Draknori bridge to the inner city. Don’t think that you can betray us and have us killed either. If I catch the faintest whiff of treachery, you will both be dead men. Got it?”

Sytheis and Fortas left and parted ways. When Sytheis returned to his inn he set straight to work on expanding his notes on the inner city. A fresh stack of teller pamphlets sat on his desk as per his instructions and a quick browse of their pages told him that there had been another two sightings of the creature. What was more, a body had been found in the Chalem sewers that had been cut clean in two. The rumours were starting to sound more and more likely to kill him. 

But think of the coin!

The next morning was impossibly hotter than the day before. Sytheis had gotten little sleep because of the humid air and his thin clothes clung damply to him with sweat. He looked as though he had swam fully clothed and he’d not even left his room yet. Bloodthirst mystery monster or not, the sewers were looking more appealing than ever.

True to their word, Rantier and his colleagues were dotted around the bridge, most of them looking worse than Sytheis felt. They were not good looking blokes at the best of times but under the intense heat they looked like half melted candle figures. To Sytheis’ surprise, Fortas stood among them looking positively enthusiastic despite the beads of sweat that dripped from his face.

“I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to see Draknori architecture up close. As a mason I am compelled to seek out the finest structures and there are none greater than those of the invaders,” he explained when Sytheis asked.

“Enough idle chatter,” Rantier snapped. “I’ve a waterfall forming along my balls that’d put the Mirosian Falls to shame because of this heat. At least knee high shit is nice and cool.”

Sytheis was the one who knocked once more on the giant doors. The eye symbol slid away and Three-Legs the Beggar appeared in the gap.

“These your murderous friends then, master wordsmith?” he asked jovially. Rantier shot Sytheis a withering glare.

“Everything has been amiably resolved for the time being,” Sytheis told the beggar with strained politeness. “We have the passes so can you let us through?”

“Sure I can. Just give me a moment,” Three-Legs muttered. The door inched open and the mismatched group entered into the inner city.

Sytheis was now glad that he had already seen the beauty. Rantier and his men stared open mouthed at everything and even Fortas gaped like a child. That sense of wonder still washed over Sytheis but he pushed it down and tried to play it cool and appear uninterested.

Chipper came running out of a building and saluted Sytheis with a big dumb grin. “I’m your guide. I gots to take you to the sewers and show you where folk have gone missing.”

Bibbi groaned. “Children shouldn’t be ‘round us at the best o’ times. Really shouldn’t when we’re killin’ monsters. Can’t we get an old bloke who’s tired o’ life?”

“Relax Bibbi. Kids are great at running for their lives.” said a short Chalem man with straggly hair called T. “Remember that lad we tried to chase after we cut up his pa? We couldn’t catch ‘im no matter how hard we-”

“Shut it, T!” Rantier interrupted. “These people don’t want to hear about that that. “Maybe try telling them about the time we saved that cat from a tree.”

“Saved it? We threw rocks at it until it fell out.”

A vein was throbbing on Rantier’s temple. He took a deep breath to calm himself then addressed Chipper. “Lead on then.”

They traversed the city like children in a sweetshop with Chipper constantly having to pull the  men away from one thing or another. For Fortas it was the buildings themselves while Rantier’s men seemed more interested in the valuable looking objects that were small enough to carry away. Sytheis studied the art more than anything else this time. A people’s art was said to be a gateway into their minds and culture, so it was said.

Their destination turned out to be a long building that seemed to hum audibly. There were no windows low enough for them to see through but voices could be heard within. They entered into a large room that was dominated by a strange device of metal and stone. A big wheel turned and a narrow channel of water slushed beneath it. A few beggars sat around the contraption playing cards as they idly chattered to one another. They ignored the new arrivals completely. 

“We think this place was once used to clean water. Everything still works but no one knows how to use it. The building leads down into the main passage of the sewers.” Chipper said as they crossed the room to a staircase that led down to a lower level.

There was another set of stairs and then a metal gate that led into the sewers themselves. Their lantern cast light upon white walls that seemed to glow. The tunnel was wide and tall and the water looked relatively clean compared to the Banndnor sewers they had searched before. The population above was much less than that of the other city sectors while the sewers were designed to handle far more. The air was cool and the smell, if not pleasent, was dismissable. It was no wonder that so many beggars usually frequented the place.

“There have been sightings scattered everywhere,” Chipper began. “This place is huge and us beggars only use a bit of it. The beast could be anywhere. Emperor Pinky said his cousin Tengle was checking out a sighting near the centre of the city on a lower level. I’ll take you there.”

It felt like they walked the near identical tunnels for hours. Staircases and ramps led away in every direction while every few yards a new tunnel branched off to go its own way. Chipper gave then a running commentary about what paths led where, which were used regularly by the beggars and who had never returned from where.

“You see, us beggars go missing all the time. People don’t care and other beggars expect it. Some people see us as disease ridden vermin, others thieves and scoundrels. Kill in us better society by many people’s thinking. Then some, the real crazy ones, take and kill us because they know that no one will come looking. Even down here we always assumed that if somebody doesn’t return that they got lost, trapped or fell. We are a ‘live or die by your own actions’ kind of people.”

Sytheis could see why many beggars never returned. The place was unbelievable. He was beginning to think that the Draknori had built a labyrinth beneath their city and that its use as a sewer was a secondary purpose. Nobody needed waste disposal as complex and grand as this.

“This is where the sighting was that Tengle came to investigate,” Chipper said when they entered into a small chamber with six different entrances. The group looked around the room but could find no signs of men or beast. 

“So which way do we go?” Rantier asked disgruntledly. 

“I think-” began Fortas when a thunderous sound cut off his words. 

The noise pounded through the tunnels like a physical force. At first it was indistinct until it resolved itself into a mighty roaring. Sytheis had heard nothing that compared to it, and by the looks on the other men’s faces, neither had they. The roar was coming from one of the tunnels to their right.

“Well, I think that answered my question,” Rantier muttered as the sound tapered off. His fingers twitched toward the handle of his blade. “Shall we go pay our friend a visit since he has so kindly announced himself?”

“Is that such a good idea?” asked T. “It sounds pretty fierce. Maybe-”

“Maybe you should shut up and stop being a little baby.” Rantier spat. “Look, the scarier something looks or sounds, the bigger pushover it is. Its about fooling potential predators. Nastiest beast I ever saw was me gran’s cat, Huggles. Little bugger was a fluffball that could melt butter with its big eyes and small purr. It had claws like nothing you’ve ever seen though and knew how to use ‘em. He’d strike out like a snake, one moment looking all innocent, next latched onto your face with its little arms a blur and a hundred blood furrows through your skin.”

“So we’re safe as long as it isn’t a kitty?” Bibbi ventured.

“Basically, yes.”

They all drew their weapons and began down the tunnel in question. There was no longer any talking. Tense expectation hung in the air and increased with every step. Then another roar tore apart the silence and shook the very walls. It sounded so close that they could have been stood right in front of whatever was causing the noise. Nothing lurked ahead of them that they could see though.

The path split in a T-junction. Chipper was at the head of the group and emerged into the intersection first. He looked right then left. The boy froze, the colour draining from his face. A moment later the others caught up.

“Shitting gods!” Rantier hissed. He was the only one who could form words.

The tunnel was blocked by a hulking shape unlike anything that Sytheis had seen in his life. Shadows hung about it like a cloak but he could make out giant scales covering a four-legged beast. It was like an alligator only ten times the size and with a horned head and elongated claws. Its teeth rose up like tusks and slitted eyes glowed crimson. The reek of death clung to the creature so strongly that it was an effort for Sytheis not to throw up. 

The monster opened its mouth, revealing even more teeth that clustered together in a forest of daggers, then roared. Hot air and a rancid smell smashed into the group. T tried to turn and run but Rantier caught his arm and held him in place. Rantier himself looked terrified but he tightened his grip on the sword and snarled at the beast.

“It’ll be strong. Don’t get hit. Watch its mouth as much as those claws. Probably has a tail that packs a punch behind it too. Scales look able to block a sword so only aim for its softer underside.” Rantier told them quietly. 

Sytheis wondered at his apparent knowledge of combat but had no time to inquire about it. The beast took a step forward and the men collectively took a step back. There was another roar then a burst of movement as the creature leapt at them. Sytheis ran. By the pounding footsteps around him, Rantier and the others had had the same instinct. He looked back and cursed. Chipper was still stood in place, his body rigid with fear. He skidded to a stop and shouted at the boy.

The monster didn’t attack though. It stopped a few paces from the boy and roared again, snapping its teeth and stamping its feet in a threatening manner. Shaking with fear, Chipper slid off his shoe and hurled it at the beast’s head before turning tail and running. He passed Sytheis but the wordsmith didn’t move. A frown furrowed his face. He took a step closer to the creature.

“Sytheis! Are you mad? What are you doing?” Fortas shouted at him. The mason stopped and a moment later so did Rantier.

“This isn’t right,” Sytheis murmured, more to himself than to his companions. “It isn’t attacking. I could have sworn…” He trailed off as he got closer. 

Those red eyes watched him and the creature’s actions grew more aggressive. It still didn’t attack though. Sytheis was mere steps away now. He reached out his hand toward the monster’s head. His fingertips brushed against leathery skin, or should have. His hand didn’t meet any resistance, instead passing straight through the creature like mist. 

“It…isn’t real…”

Rantier joined him and strode straight through the monster. “You’ve got to be shitting me. How do we claim a reward on a bloody illusion? Can’t cut its head off as proof.”

“That isn’t the problem. This illusion isn’t natural so where did it come from? What can create an image like this?” Sytheis mused.

“How did you know?” asked Chipper. He looked between the illusion and Sytheis with amazement.

“Your shoe,” Sytheis said distractedly. “When you threw it it when disappeared into the thing’s head. Where abouts are we?”

“Not far from the very centre of the inner city,” Chipper replied. “Why?”

“I think that somebody is hiding something. Why else would there be something like this prowling the sewers if not to scare people away?”

“Look over here,” called Rantier. He had wandered behind the ghostly creature and was staring at a dark patch on the wall. “Blood. Lots of it. A few days old I’d guess.”

“The emperor’s cousin?” Sytheis wondered aloud.

“Maybe. He had several men with him though. What could kill them and move the bodies if not this non-existent bastard?” Rantier grunted. 

“I don’t like this, boss,” whimpered Bibbi. “We should go. No monster to kill so no reason to be here.”

“You don’t like vegetables or water either. Deal with it. I-”

There was a crackling sound then the image of the monster flickered and disappeared. The tunnel suddenly felt too empty.

“Is that good or bad?” asked T. Nobody answered him.

Sytheis readied his blade. “Rantier, tell me, when intimidation doesn’t get you what you want, what next?”

“After intimidation, things get real violent real quick.” He too stood at full alert. 

A shadow appeared from nowhere and steel rang out. Rantier grunted as his sword locked with a thicker, longer blade. He looked past the weapon to see who held it and nearly dropped his sword with surprise. He jumped back as a second sword arced for his gut.

Their attacker was tall, a full foot taller than Rantier and was broader too. He had pale grey skin covered in segmented grey armour that almost blended with his body. Four muscular arms hung from a barrel chest which held two swords between them. Above two normal slitted eyes sat a third eye and below them was a long mouth that split the creature’s head. Two horns jutted from its forehead that were angled down across its head to protect its face from any slashing attack.

Sytheis had read descriptions  and had seen paintings and engravings matching the being. Every record stated that what he was staring at should be impossible. This manlike monster was supposed to be extinct. Draknori…

A sharp intake of breath sounded behind them and Sytheis span to see a second Draknori stood behind T, one hand grabbing the back of the man’s neck. It swung with its two swords, bifurcating him in clean in two from his stomach. 

“Shit!” Rantier cursed. “We can’t fight them!”

“This way!” shouted Chipper. He ran in the one direction that was unblocked. The men ran after him.Sytheis glanced back but the two Draknori were already gone. 

“We need to get back to the surface,” Sytheis shouted. “Chipper, do you know the quickest way back?”

“I don’t know these paths well. We’re running deeper into the maze.”

“The authorities have to be told about this!”

“Forget the authorities! I don’t intend to die covered in shit while running for my life!” Rantier spat.

Shadows flickered all around them. 

“Fire and stone, we’re all going to die!” screamed Fortas.

Chipper darted down a side passage and the others dived in after him. The hazy shape of the Draknori followed them. The shadows were gaining every second. Chipper screamed then was suddenly one from sight. A moment later, screams and shouts of surprise from the men joined Chipper’s yells. 

The floor slanted down at a sharp angle without warning so that the group were sent sliding along the water and stone. The passage was enclosed for several seconds, occasionally revealing glimpses of other levels of the sewers before opening up completely. The slope was then just a narrow strip of stone that cut across empty blackness. From the lantern clutched to Bibbi’s chest the light didn’t touch any other surface. They must have been speeding through some kind of vast underground cavern. 

Then the slope came to an abrupt halt. Sytheis fell through the darkness, the sound of the air rushing past him almost drowning out the screams around him and from his own lungs. The lantern flame extinguished, leaving them in total darkness.

Pain. Ungodly noise. Ice. No breath.

Numbness and confusion fought for control over Sytheis’ body. A spark of consciousness flared up and he thrashed his limbs as he realised he was submerged underwater. His lungs burned. He couldn’t tell how far from the surface he was. Was he even swimming the in the right direction? That spark of consciousness was beginning to fade away into the abyss.

His head broke the surface and he drank in air in great heaving mouthfuls. Then he was under again. There was a powerful current that dragged him along. It was a battle just to keep his head above water. He slammed into a rock, then another. He hit a wall then kicked off only to hit another at the other side. He must have now been in a narrow passage. 

Time lost meaning. Every second was a brutal fight for life. His entire body was bruised and the chill in his veins only grew greater with the exposure to the icy water. After what could have been eternity, all grew still.

At first Sytheis thought that he had finally died but upon reflection he was in too much pain to be dead. He lay on his back floating through calm waters. Vaguely he was aware of his surroundings. There was light now. Open blue sky was visible far above while muddy banks rose around him. He guessed that he was in a low lying basin somewhere. 

He had no strength left to move. He lay unmoving until he saw a bank at the basin’s side then mustered the last vestiges of his willpower and swam the short distance to the shore.  No sooner had he flopped onto the mud than he saw bodies in the water. Bile rose in his throat until he saw limbs splashing. 

Rantier and Bibbi shambled onto the bank with Chipper held between them. Fortas followed on his hands and knees. The two men looked battered and worn down but Chipper was slumped unmoving. They laid him down then collapsed at his side. 

Sytheis staggered over to the boy and shook him. It had no effect. He knew nothing of even basic healing. He had seen a choking man saved in a tavern once and that was his only point of reference. He decided to give that method a try and punched Chipper as hard as he could in the gut. 

The boy jerked up. Water spewed from his mouth and he gasped for breath between body racking retches. When he had nothing left to throw up he sagged back into the mud and broke into tears. Sytheis would have laid beside him if he thought that he could ever get back up again.

Nobody moved for a while. The sky was gradually darkening and the heat of the air cooled. Eventually Sytheis tried to rouse the others.

“We can’t stay here all night. Let’s find a place to camp. Somewhere dry. Then tomorrow we can return to Moorhenda.”

Rantier struggled to his feet. “Bloody bollocks. We survived. Can’t say I was expectin’ that. Sleep certainly sounds good to me.” He fell silent for a moment. “They were really Draknori, weren’t they? Still alive right under our feets.”

“Sure looks like it,” sighed Sytheis. 

There was a thin, steep path that led from the bank up the the top of the basin. Fortas and Bibbi carried Chippy between them while Sytheis and Rantier climbed up ahead to try and find their bearings. They were in a forest but there was nothing that they could see to tell them how far from the city they were. Rantier pulled himself up a tree and shouted down that he could just see the central tower that Emperor Pinky called home. 

“It’ll be a full day’s walk,” he reported when back on the ground. 

They made camp nearby and spent the night beneath the stars. Sytheis sat leant against a tree as he went through his pack. Everything was ruined. His entire body ached and his mind was cloudy with weariness. With a deep sigh, he closed his eyes and fervently hoped that things would start looking up for him soon. The world looked to be at the tip of great change and he seemed to be at its centre whatever he did. They were worries for tomorrow though. Gold awaited him back in Moorhenda and that was all that mattered.

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