By Jaap-Peter Hazelhoff
Chapter 56 - The Long Wait
Berdusk, 1371 DR, Eleint, 10th day, afternoon
Curiosity is one of the many traits of his kin, and Pudruelantreda is no exception. The carving of young Marc is not very interesting, but the open doors of the warehouse have a certain invitational magnetism. With a quick flutter of his wings, Puddy moves towards the opening, and remembering the embarrassment of Twilight Hall, cautiously hovers in front of the opening. Taking a look inside the warehouse, the little fae sees the floor of the warehouse packed with crates and barrels, which in the shadowy atmosphere inside the building provide a good amount of hiding places. A large wooden stairs lead up to the second floor, as well as what seems to be some sort of a ladder in a far corner. Looking up, a similar situation seems to exist on the second floor. The middle of the second floor is open, leaving only a wide balcony for storage. A hoist descending from the ceiling beams of the third floor is apparently used to lift goods up to the second and third floor. Most of the interior of the warehouse is made of wood and wooden beams save for a stone structure behind the office on the first floor. The structure resembles a cube with no apparent windows, only a sturdy door provides access from the ground. A metal grate in the roof can be opened up to allow heavy goods to be stored within by using the hoist.
Ditalidas sits in the coach on Marc’s former spot and watches the door of the warehouse. When Nik leaves his spot near Marc she shifts uneasily on her seat. “Damn…” She tries to watch trough the other window to locate Emlyn and Nik. Seeing them talk she mumbles something inaudible. She turns back to the green doors and gazes inside but sees nothing. Again she shifts on her seat. Then she sees Nik return to Marc. “What are they talking about? And what keeps that man! Can’t he just return quickly?” A little frustrated she turns her attention back to the open doors. She bites on her lower lip while she gazes in the darkness lurking behind the doors. “Damn…”
Emlyn continues her view on the street, but now her glances near the two others are more concentrated and a little questioning… which can mean anything varying from ‘why in the nine hells don’t you check it out’ to ‘are your watching your backs’ to ‘have you checked whether this stupid building has more doors.’ While Emlyn tries to communicate non-verbally from across the street, Marc’s and Nik’s attention is briefly drawn to the light sound of fluttering wings. Apparently Puddy has found the waiting too boring and has set off to somewhere… Growing bored with the conversation about the carving and the acting of the halfling across the road, the small fae turns his attention to the warehouse that seems to concern his companions so. Taking to the air once more, Puddy does a flyby inspection of any windows in the front of the warehouse, before maneuvering himself to hover in front of the main door to give the interior a thorough visual.
Marc is as alert as he possibly can after Nik’s warning. From time to time he peeks into the street to catch a glance of whatever is visible there or at the side of this building. He frowns as he sees Emlyn’s questioning looks, a bit puzzled. Then suddenly Marc seems to hear something – and so does Friend, who briefly pricks up her ears but lies her head down at ease almost immediately – and in a reflex he slaps in the air as he’s just heard a gnat. He turns to Nik and opens his mouth to say something as he suddenly realizes what – or whom – he almost has hit. For a moment he looks in the direction the sound went to. Then he turns to Nik again and whispers at him: “It seems there’s something going on with our small warrior over there.”
After a glance at the carriage and it’s inhabitant he says much louder and with some anger in his voice, “Alright! As you wish!” Marc throws his carved effort in a wide bow to the other end of the street. Frowning he adds, “There you are, saer! …I’ll find myself a new bough and carve a two-eared horse for your wife.” And while he knows this is just a theatrical play they’re playing he really intents to find another piece of wood and carve some simple look-alike of a horse this time, of cheaper wood if he can find it.
Quickly Marc stands up and moving a bit uncouth, he walks to the other side of the street where he searches the gutter for another branch. Lingers close to the halfling beggar Marc starts looking through some of the refuse that is piled close to the buildings. As often the case, people tend to dump their offal in the small alleys between the buildings. Friend cocks her head as her master walks away. Unfortunately for Nik, the young shepherd trained his dog well. With an almost questioningly look in her eyes she regards the bard. Then all of a sudden she senses something and despite all her training she stands up quickly, giving the unsuspecting bard a fright. With the hairs in her neck raised and her upper lip curled in a snarl she grows at the open doors. With her tail hanging low – almost between her legs – she backs up a little moving closer to Nik.
No movement is visible inside the warehouse, though all of a sudden Marc’s dog starts acting strangely… and a feeling of unease sweeps over the little fae… Shivering a little at the odd sensation sweeping over him, and seeing a similar effect overcome Friend, Puddy hesitates only briefly before abandoning the doorway and returns to where Marc and Nik await. A whir of gossamer wings is the only betrayal of the small fairy’s return. Hovering close to Nik, Puddy says, “Felt it too, she did! Saw it not when I peeked in the doors, but upon my back and neck, I felt it!” Then, in a calmer voice, “Inside I peeked, saw many boxes and barrels, both downstairs and up. A big stone room inside, with a door but no windows, and a grate for the roof.”
Marc having crossed the street starts to search the gutter behind Emlyn, mumbling most inaudible syllables except for the heart grounded “Bloody Tourists!” Which only Emlyn might hear. When he closes in on her he whispers, “So, what’s up?” Marc continues mumbling as if something has irritated him deeply. Then he whispers again: “What or who did you see?” Marc bows as to pick something up, but then he decides not to and straightens again. For a brief moment he looks at her face “And what are you trying to say us?” But then he’s distracted by the sound of his dog. Alerted he looks over his shoulder at her. Turning completely, he sees the dog is upset and Marc tries to look what it is that alerted her.
Emlyn looks back at Marc, the pleading look of a beggar not leaving her face. Meanwhile, she answers his questions as swiftly as possible. “Shadows… merely… But they’ve disappeared – might have noticed something, or left altogether by another way. We can’t stand around all day…” The priest-beggar isn’t sure if her words have been heard, Marc attention seems to be focused on the scene across the street where Nik has a hard time with Friend’s reaction…
When Marc threw the old carving the bard flinched, fear suddenly bright in his eyes. He swallows hard, trying to keep a grip on himself, and bats at the empty air once in a lame attempt to mask his reflexive twitch with the pretense of warding off flying insects. Friend, however, is a different story. When she abruptly gets to her feet the bard jerks back against the wall behind him, terror stark on his craggy face. As she growls at the doors Nik presses himself even harder against the rough wall at his back, his long fingers clawing blindly at the wall behind him as if a door might suddenly appear there to let him escape the dog. His wild eyes are glued on the dog, not on what she is reacting too, and a tiny whimper escapes him as she backs up closer to him. Nik’s breath comes in short, sharp pants, whistling between his clenched teeth, and he freezes as if it was his searching fingers that brought the dog closer.
Puddy’s arrival ratchets the tall man’s terror up one more notch. He cringes back, casting one panicked look at the empty air in the fairy’s direction before returning his fear-glazed eyes to the dog. Another frightened whimper escapes the bard as Puddy starts talking, but the fae creature’s familiar voice seems to reassure the bard. Nik’s harsh, gasping breathing slows and he swallows hard several times, hands clenching into fists as he visibly fights back the fear. Finally the blind panic recedes from his ashen, twisted face and Nik pries his eyes from Friend to where she is looking. The tall bard is still obviously terrified, hands and gaunt body trembling and face pale and beaded with sweat, but it is just as plain that he is (at least for the moment) winning this round in his war with fear.
While Marc stands close to Emlyn he listens to her intensely, but he keeps his eyes focused at the other side of the street. His eyes roam from side to side, scanning alleys, windows, doors and pausing to check the coach thoroughly every time. The corners of his mouth lower and he looks disgusted when Emlyn mentions the shadows. Thoughtfully he nods, slowly, while even throwing a glance at the sitting halfling woman. He bends and then squats as if to pick something up. He answers the beggar in low voice, “Don’t like it! …Shadows, ‘ey?” Marc frowns, but whether that’s because of what he found on the floor or because of the associations that come to mind is uncertain for viewers. “Undead yesterday… Shadows today… No, I don’t like it.” Unintentionally Marc’s gaze wanders off to look over his shoulder at the coach. He remains silent for a moment. Then his attention is back to the here-and-now. But whatever Marc picked up, it doesn’t seem to be what he was looking for: he looks at the object in his hands, looks displeased and he throws it back in the gutter. While remaining squatted he looks at Emlyn, “Leave, you mean?”
The tall bard swallows hard several times, not even trying to regain the air of the absent-minded tourist that he had portrayed earlier, and shakily wipes at the sweat on his pale, gaunt face. In a strained and weak voice, hardly more than a whimper, Nik says “Good dog. Did you see a rat?” One trembling hand reaches awkwardly down to give the dog one quick pat on the back, really just the slightest touch of her soft fur before he snatches his hand back as if she were red hot. Nik gives Marc and Emlyn a sickly attempt at a smile and says to Marc “I think your dog saw something, lad. Maybe there are rats in that warehouse.” The bard’s thin voice is a feeble, threadbare shadow of his normal deep tones, and he gives the dark doorway a frightened glance and adds faintly “I hate rats.”
Marc stands up again and turns back to view the shambles at this side of the street. But during this movement he changes his mind, and he looks at the tall man near Friend. He smiles warmly as he sees him conquering his fear of dogs and petting the shepherd’s dog and saying something to the black and white animal. Marc is about to say something to Emlyn when he is addressed by Nik, he pauses a moment and then answers in reassuring tone, loud enough to be heard at the other side of the street: “Don’t you worry sir! My dog surely is NOT afraid of rats!”
The bard’s frightened gaze snaps to Marc’s face as the lad speaks to him, and Nik gives Marc a feeble smile. “That’s a good thing to know.” He says weakly, as his wild eyes return to searching the area the dog is looking at. The tall, gaunt man looks like a cornered rabbit – aware of some danger, but uncertain where the danger is or which way is safe to run…
However reassuring Marc’s words were meant, they seem to have an opposite effect on the speaker. Even before Nik answers him a frown appears above his brown eyes. And, while he can’t help a smile surfacing at Nik’s peculiar behavior, he answers Nik’s words with a whispered “Well… is it?” He lifts his left hand up, puts his thumb against his jaw and two fingers on each cheek, softly mumbling to himself: “But she certainly *is* afraid! …Haven’t seen her this scared since… since…” Some grumbling sound issues from Marc’s throat, “…a long time.” He slowly shakes his head as his eyes are focused on his faithful companion. “Afraid of what?” The corners of his mouth lower as if he’s eaten something nasty. “Doesn’t look…” Then his pondering is interrupted by Emlyn’s answer.
“No,” Emlyn simply says, her face happy as that of a child in sharp contrast to her words. “Face them. Or let me, or Nik’s little invisible friend have a knock on the door. We can’t stand here all day, let alone allow a murderer to get away.” With the thoughtful look on his face still there, Marc nods, “Perhaps, yes… I mean: no. We could, but what goal would it serve? Seems t’ becoming pointless, I agree.” His left hand is a fist as he softly pats his lips with it. He is just starting to share his concern as the sound of a flying insect is heard: “I… ehm.” Overhearing the conversation between Marc and Emlyn, Puddy hovers unseen nearby and says, “Or both? Might accomplish two together more than one alone? Especially when one see they may not.” The fey then mutters in a low, quavering voice, “But suspect I do that that which I may not see might myself easily see.” Marc looks at the direction of the invisible fairy creature as it speaks these oracles. “Ehm…” he utters as he tries to figure out what the creature may have meant. He nods again, “We might, yes, but…” Marc throws another glance at the coach and then nods to indicate the crates, the bard or the dog at the other side of the street. Frowning he adds: “I… Ehm…” he takes another breath before he continues thoughtfully, “Are we sure we want to do that?” He scratches his neck, “There must be something… quite… ehm… fearsome there. Look! And Friend’s not a funk!”
Marc’s eyes move from Emlyn to the place where Puddy spoke and back. Then he wryly smiles and shrugs. “Anyway,” he says and turns away, crossing the street to the crate he sat on earlier. He nods at Nik as he approaches and incidentally cuddles Friend’s head. “Better come over, they’re suggesting a different approach altogether,” he says as he takes his sword from underneath the bag and sheathes it. Then he kneels near the dog and embraces her. In an extreme friendly tone he talks to her, saying “Then what are you afraid of, little giant? …I’m here!” and – looking at the open doors – “Must be something really bad, hey, little one.” As he stands up to return to Emlyn (and Puddy?) he says, “Come, Friend!” He smiles as he realizes the double meaning and looks over his shoulder at Nik, clearly inviting him to come too. His knife finds a place beneath his shirt.
Still sitting in her couch Ditalidas tries to keep an eye on everything that’s going on. She shifts frustrated on her chair when after Nik also Marc crosses the street, when she turns her attention back from Marc and Emlyn she notices Friend’s odd behavior. She narrows her eyes and scans the surroundings to see what could have caused this behavior. Nothing much is visible in the persistent mist hanging in the streets of Berdusk, the fog allows just enough sight to view the warehouse and Dita’s friends in front of it. As her eyes pass the open doors of the warehouse, she catches a glimpse of movement. However in the shady interior of the warehouse it is not easy to make out any details… Ditalidas shifts uneasy on her seat. She shakes her head and mumbles to herself: “This has taken long enough… This was not the best of ideas I could have had.” She shifts towards the door – the one not looking out on the large green doors. Opening the door of the carriage, she steps onto the street and whistles softly to attract Marc’s and Emlyn’s attention. When she has their attention she motions them to meet her at the coach.
Marc’s eyebrows rise in relief as he sees the lady descend from the vehicle. He slows down his pace on the midst of the street to examine her actions. When he sees her beckoning he completes the last few feet to Emlyn’s side of the street, while nodding enthusiastically. He quickly cocks his head to point to his mistress and says “Look, we’re called!” Gladly he continues: “I think the noble lady will provide us with all her insights and answers.” His wide eager look diminishes and he looks at this brave small woman in front of him. A little less assured he contradicts his own words: “Don’t you think she will?” Emlyn jumps to her feet. At Marc’s last comment, she gives a low chuckle. “Well then, let’s see what this almighty oracle of yours has to offer. I guess she’s become a bit impatient as well.” With that the hin-woman walks to the carriage.
The cold mist drifting lazily through the streets of the Jewel of the Vale not only hampers vision, it also distorts sound. The sound of wagon wheels and hooves on the cobbles seemed far off, yet suddenly dark ghostly shapes are visible turning into more solid form as they draw closer. A team of lathered horses pulling a heavy laden wagon escorted by a pair of dour looking bearded guards makes its way between the buildings forcing Ditalidas to step a little closer to the carriage and making Marc, Emlyn and Nik jump aside hastily. Friend, seemingly unperturbed by the horses and wagon, turns about following the wagon for a few paces before cocking her head and rushing back towards Marc.
The little fey hovers behind the others as they move to cross the street, when the wagon team pushes rudely past, a small protruding tongue and glaring eyes fade into view momentarily before winking out of visibility. Puddy chooses not to break the silence with a caustic remark, and continues on to the carriage to see what the lady has in mind. The young lady Jalarghar brushes a few spatters of dirt from her clothes as she awaits her friends. Her gaze slightly darkened at the small convoy disappearing into the mist again. From atop the carriage Theskul looks a little worried at his mistress. Seeing nothing amiss he dismounts the carriage to soothe the horses which have become a little agitated by the wait and the wagon and horses rumbling by.
Adapting his pace to Emlyn’s Marc walks to the carriage. After he has jumped aside for the passing wagon he waves a fist in the air, whispering agitated: “Careful!” Then he turns to Emlyn, as if to apologize for the behavior of humankind. He frowns “Them bearded bastards!” Then he sighs, shaking his head, “Some people just act like the city is theirs alone. Are you okay?” He turns his head to look at the tall bard behind them, “and you?” There’s amusement and pity in his eyes as he friendly asks, “Just fell out of the frying pan into the fire it seems?” Paying no attention to the cart driver apart from a look of contempt and muttering “The same in any place…” Emlyn walks on. She smiles at the young human’s comments, and keeps a watchful eye on the behavior of the dog.
The near miss with the wagon doesn’t affect the tall bard the way it should seem to. Nik steps out of the way almost absently, hardly even looking at the large vehicle that came so close to hitting him. The gaunt man’s left hand flashes up, seemingly of its own accord, fingers bent in an unmistakably obscene gesture at the back of the wagoneer’s head, but his eyes don’t leave the seemingly empty doorway that has caused so much concern. Nik shakes himself like a wet dog, and gives the dark doorway one more worried look, before sighing resignedly, shoving his hands into his pockets and slouching over to Ditalidas’ carriage.
When they reach the highborn lady Marc is undisturbed by the stains on her hunting suit. He reports as he would have done after a nightly orc-hunt in the midst of winter, seemingly ages ago and certainly hundreds of miles away. Shrugging his shoulders he says: “Sorry, ma’am, we waited some time but the man seems to have vanished in the fog or something.” He throws a glance over his shoulder at the warehouse, “There surely *IS* something or someone there though!” As he talks further he pats the halfling on her shoulder, “Emlyn here saw something and Friend was frightened just a moment ago, and believe me, she’s no coward!”
Marc raises his brows briefly. “I don’t know, Ditalidas. What to do I mean.” He moves a foot or two to the right, giving Nik the opportunity to complete the circle. “Emlyn here suggested we should go in and collect the man, but I don’t know…” He looks at each of the gathered friends – the look at Puddy roughly in the right direction. “I don’t mind going in, nor would I mind continuing the ride for your odd-job.” He nods at Ditalidas “Earn those goldies and return to the Twilight Hall.” Sneakily he glances into the alley next to the warehouse. “It just doesn’t feel right…” Marc pauses to think before he adds, “Yes, anyway. Going in or not, but whatever we do, we’d better stick together.” The latter is accompanied by a warm smile towards the tall bard.
Emlyn looks around and sighs. “Marc is right. And I cannot say I’m used to being part of an operation… but I ‘am’ used to jump in when necessary. I have no wish to endanger you three or anyone else for that matter, but if that man ‘is’ a murderer, he ought to be stopped.” She stares at the lady’s noble feet for a while, obviously not used to seeking contact let alone a conflict with someone of higher station. Then she raises her gaze almost defiantly. “And regardless of who disagrees, I’m planning to nick him, one way or the other. Doesn’t mean I’m going to storm the place, there’s always either a way of sneaking in…” She looks around her meaningfully, wherever the small faerie may be “…or good old polite knocking.”
Nik seems in no hurry to return to the carriage, and by the time he reaches it all traces of his earlier terror are gone from his weathered, careworn face. He smiles his old, wry smile as he draws near, but as he hears the end of Emlyn’s comments the smile drains from his face.
Once back within the relative safety of the carriage, Puddy fades into visibility once again, and settles himself upon a curtain rod. After listening to Marc and Emlyn’s update to Ditalidas, Puddy places his chin upon his small fist and looks at the humans quizzically. “Walk in you can! And why not? Look the same, all you large peoples do, only dress differently?” Pointing to Ditalidas, “The merchant can you be, nicely enough your garb wears…” and then to the others, “and guards for her body might you be. Walk inside, look, and ask questions? Do not merchants do this?” The little pixie then pulls out his flute and inspects it to make sure the damp has not tarnished it.
Leaning against the side of the carriage with the lazy, casual arrogance he has shown briefly in the Running Stag, Nik faces Marc, Emlyn and Ditalidas. The faint, ironic smile returns to his lips, but there is a flicker of fear in his eyes again. “I think we lack both the skills and the resources to catch this murderer at this moment.” Nik says softly. Holding up a hand to forestall any comments he continues, still in that same hushed voice as if he fears being overheard, “I have not willingly put myself into danger for a very long time, yet just now I went to stand watch for a murderer in a dark alley. Waiting for a man whose face I do not know, whose associations I can not fathom, whose motives I can not even begin to guess. I have no doubts that you are all good at what you do. But I KNOW I am NOT good at what I have just attempted, and I am also aware that our adversary has the upper hand at this moment. We are on his turf, my friends. Playing by his rules. We know that he has some connection with this warehouse. That is something. But he certainly knows we are here by now, and I am quite sure we did not fool him for an instant with our little ruse. Let us go about our business, and come back when we are better prepared, and rather less obvious.” He taps his bony knuckles on the carriage to indicate what he thinks was their biggest give-away.
Then Nik abruptly climbs into the carriage without waiting for a response to his speech. Ditalidas listens to the advices and opinions of her friends, giving a nod now and then or shaking her head. She looks irritated as Nik climbs in the carriage without waiting for the replies of the others. In the silence after the bard’s words, suddenly sounds which resemble high-pitched screams drift through the mist from close by. They seem almost to come from below the street…
The bard had just sat down when the screams startle him back into motion. Nik leaps to his feet, forgetting for a vital moment that no carriage has enough headroom for such a tall man to stand upright. His head hits the ceiling with a dull thud and he sits back down, holding his head and cursing loudly and colorfully. He shoots Puddy a glare and mutters angrily “I should have just stayed in Nashkel. Things just keep getting worse all the time…” Getting to his feet with much more care, Nik leans out the door of the carriage and gives the others the same annoyed glare. Rubbing the top of his head with one hand and hanging on to the carriage doorframe with the other, he asks peevishly “NOW what is going on?” His eyes reveal the fear that fuels his anger, though, as they dart back towards the warehouse.
Ditalidas opens her mouth to say something when she hears the sound. She cocks her head listening and slowly closes her mouth. Then she points out at the sewer grating. “It’s coming from there.” She walks up to the grate and kneels beside it. “Let’s lift it.” She looks up at Marc and Emlyn for help. Tiny wrinkles are on the lad’s forehead when the young peasant looks at the grating where this sound emerged. “What’s?” He utters concerned. He squeezes one eye. “There’s something wrong down there!” He says on a more adult tone. As Ditalidas walks up to that spot he hesitates for a heartbeat before he slowly, wavering, follows her a few paces. When his dark brown eyes see her kneeling he nods. He quickens his pace and kneels too. He pauses for two breaths to look and listen what goes on beneath the large lid. Splashing sounds echo through the darkness below, as if creatures are running through the sewage. In the dim light below Marc sees the faint glow of light reflecting on the liquid surface. Just as he is about to straighten, a couple of smallish dark shapes move past the opening some twenty feet below.
After a quick glance over his shoulder at Emlyn he nods at Ditalidas and calmly says, “Okay” Bending over, the young man grabs the grating. “On your count…” He says, preparing to pull the grating with force. Concentrated on Ditalidas’s face he waits for her initiative. With a glance at Marc’s new sword, Emlyn walks over to the grate and positions herself so that if troubles decide to rise up, she is its target rather than the unprotected lady Ditalidas. While the halfling’s sharp brown eyes peer into the lower levels, her hand wanders from the small wooden figure around her neck to Ilmater’s symbol, still in her pocket. Her sharp ears pick up the sound of a number of creatures hurrying through the sewage below. By the sound of it, the splashes are receding away rapidly from the vantage point she’s in. The only visible clue to something being down in the sewers is the faint glow of torchlight reflecting off the surface of the sewage some twenty feet lower.
At the sound coming from the sewer grate, Puddy glances up startled, then instantly vanishes from his place on the carriage’s curtain rod. As the rest of the group exits the carriage to investigate, the presence of the little fey is betrayed only by the slight whir of hovering wings. However, Puddy says nothing as the grate is being lifted after the young lady Jalarghar gives the sign. With some effort Marc is able to lift the cast-iron grating. With the sound of rusty metal sliding over stone the grating is being moved from its resting place to the side, the strain of the effort visible on Marc’s face.
“They are getting away…” Emlyn mutters, still staring into the lower reaches. A trace of impatience has crept into her words as she seems annoyed that she hasn’t taken any action sooner. Then she gets back to the matter at hand. “You might want me to go down first…” She says simply. “It may be dangerous.” Marc looks up from his sitting position at the brave words of the little woman warrior and smiles. Then he says: “There are people down there! People and… something else…” The smile he tossed at Emlyn so shortly ago deforms into a grim grin. “Should we… or…?” He looks at the others, uncertain what to do. While Emlyn seems ready to enter the sewers, Ditalidas seems to be in doubt; indecision visible on her face as she stares at the open hole in the ground. “I don’t know… I mean we don’t know what we will find down there…” The young woman’s eyes go from Emlyn to Marc and then to Nik, as if seeking an answer. As she shifts a bit nervously about, suddenly a screeching sound of something sharp drawn over metal comes from down below, almost immediately after followed by another scraping sound… Emlyn throws Ditalidas an encouraging look. “Neither do I, but I intend to find out.” She looks at Marc, then her gaze rests at Nik. “But regardless from who goes down there, we, ah, need at least somebody to, well, stand watch and all.” With this, she seems determined not to take much more time before quickly and silently slipping into the grate and climbing down.
The tall bard stepped out of the carriage as Marc lifted the sewer grate, fear and concern twisting his haggard face and one hand outstretched as if to stop the lad. When nothing nasty jumped out Nik sighed in relief, his hand dropping back to his side. As the others discuss what to do Nik seems about to comment several times, but he remains silent, eyes flicking nervously up and down the street. When Emlyn looks at him, she can see the emotions roiling in the bard’s dull hazel eyes. The ever-present fear is obvious, as is his concern for their safety. But most plain is Nik’s relief that she doesn’t expect him to follow her down into unknown danger. A flush of shame colors the bard’s high cheekbones, and he looks away sharply in a futile attempt to hide his shame at his own cowardice.
Back still to his companions, Nik says faintly “I’ll, ehm, keep watch up here, shall I?” He turns back around to see Emlyn vanish into the sewer, and for a brief second he looks like he might try to stop her. But he stops in mid-step, shaking his head at the pointlessness of his attempt. He looks helplessly at Ditalidas and Marc, his eyes full of concern for the brave halfling. “She’ll be fine.” He says weakly, obviously trying to reassure himself more than the others. “I’m sure she’ll be just fine.”Still crouching near the grate Ditalidas looks up at Nik. “I’ll stay here with you.” Then she turns to Marc. “Why don’t you follow Emlyn? She might need your help. I have no idea what is down there… if you get in trouble… just shout as hard as you can and I will come looking for you.” She runs a hand through Friend’s fury coat. “I’ll keep an eye on Friend too.” Her gaze wanders down to the sewers and then with a worried glance she looks Marc in the eyes. “Be careful down there, Marc.”
Marc looks thoughtfully at the elegant lady who’s crouching next to him. He coughs and shakes his head as if to rid himself off clouded thoughts. He touches his forehead with the fingers of his left hand and sighs. Successively he looks into the sewer, at Nik, the carriage and driver, Friend -he nods at this point-, Emlyn, his sword and Ditalidas. “Ok,” He says lightly. He nods at Emlyn, “Ok, let’s go in then” He turns his head to Friend and commands her to stay and stand watch for Nik and his mistress. Then he says to the bard and the noblewoman: “Please find a rope and have it at the ready…” Marc smiles meaningfully. Then he adds with a touch of humor in his voice, “We might want to leave… well… ehm, sudden.” Then he unsheathes his sword. Keeping the weapon ready in his right hand he climbs into the shaft.
Torn between staying near Nik, and investigating the sewers, Puddy hums audibly for a few moments before making up his mind. “To not see, not the way of my folk it is. Follow them both, I shall, and unseen remain if trouble finds them. Take you care, and courage find, soon back we shall.” And with this, the little fey circles the bard’s head and flies into the manhole following Emlyn and Marc. As the flutter recedes from his head and Marc’s unruly hair disappears into the manhole as well, Nik looks around helplessly before glancing once more into the young woman’s direction. The fog shrouded street seems to have become even quieter now… only the soft munching sound the horse makes as it chews on its bit and the creak of its leather harness indications of life.
When she sees her boss sink away in the opening in the street Friend stiffens. Then she carefully walks up to the rim of the hole and looks down. The sound of scraping feet on metal slowly decreases. Curiously Friend puts her nose even lower and sniffs. There’s a twitch in the sides of her nose, which would have indicated disgust if it had been on someone else’s face. Suddenly there’s a loud splash sounding from the opening, while simultaneously Marc’s voice utters an “Ooof!” In reaction to that Friend stops wagging her tail. Then she looks up expectantly at Nik.
Feeling eyes upon him, the bard glances down at Friend. His face pales, fear-sweat beading his high forehead as he hurriedly looks away from the dog’s expectant gaze. Nik swallows hard several times, shivering, his long arms wrapped around his bony chest. His frightened eyes keep roaming the quiet street, always returning to the warehouse and the sewer. Ditalidas’ request of her driver only merits a distracted glance from the skittish bard.
As Ditalidas sees Marc disappear, she closes her eyes for a moment before looking worriedly to the shaft again. The she looks up at Nik, shrugging her shoulder as to tell him that it is out of their hands now. “A rope…” She mumbles under her breath. “Oh well, one never knows.” She stands up from her crouching position near the grate and walks to Theskul. “You wouldn’t have a piece of rope somewhere in the coach, would you?” She asks him. “Milady?” The man looks questioningly at the young woman; he had apparently dozed off a little, “Ehm… a rope. There might be some in the bunk…” Standing up, Theskul flips back the seat covering to rummage through the contents of the bunk; the movement and sounds making the horses a little nervous, the movement of the animals causing the carriage to sway a little. Stabilizing himself with one hand Theskul continues, moments later holding up a small, dusty coil of old, used rope. “Probably fifteen feet or such… would this suffice?”
Ditalidas smiles at Theskul. “It will have to do.” She takes the rope from him. “Thank you Theskul.” She turns back to the hole in the street and crouches near it again. Though she doubts she’ll need the rope she still searches for a place to attach it. “It can never hurt. Maybe we have to pull something up.” she says without addressing anyone in particular. When she’s done she lays a hand on Friends back. “He will be alright, Friend. Don’t worry.” She starts petting the dog and scratches her behind her ears. Then she looks up to Nik. “They will be alright, you know.” Somehow it sounds more like she wants to convince herself rather then Nik.
The bard gives Ditalidas a wan ghost of a smile. “They’ll be fine. I’m sure they will handle whatever is down there.” He says with clearly forced confidence. It is obvious the tall man is trying to put on a brave face for Ditalidas, but he is failing miserably. The need to reassure Ditalidas is at war with the man’s own fears and deep-rooted lack of self-esteem. The struggle is plain in his haggard face and sunken eyes and he looks away abruptly, shame bright in his eyes as he realizes how feeble his attempt at bravery is. The tall man’s narrow shoulders hunch, as if he expects a sharp word or even a blow for his cowardice. Shivering again, he says faintly “I thought I heard something. Guess it’s nothing.”
Having taken that brief moment to collect himself, Nik looks back at the open sewer while avoiding Ditalidas’ eyes. The bard’s bony left hand creeps to the rapier slung at his hip and then clenches tightly about the leather-braided hilt. His large knuckles are white with the force of his grip, and he stares into the sewer with a horrified fixation. His free right hand trembles slightly where it rests on the battered, unadorned sheath, but there is now determination behind the terror in his shadowed eyes. His lips move as he stares down into the hole, and Ditalidas can just barely hear him whisper harshly to himself “Grow a spine, you worthless bastard.”
Nimbly climbing down into the darkness below, Emlyn’s feet soon reach the last rung. Shielded from the noises of the street above, the small woman’s ears pick up sounds of creatures wading through the sewage somewhere in the tunnel system. Glimpsing down, she sees the slow flowing muck and the sewer tunnel opening in two directions. From the one which seems to lead in the general direction of the warehouse, the halfling can see the flickering of light. Emlyn looks up to the grate above and softly calls upward: “Mucky, but coast is clear.” Then she darts forward, following the direction of the light but remaining in sight from her previous position, trying to determine the distance to where the sound is coming from. A bit more slowly because of the sword in his hand Marc makes his way down into the darkness. Soon vision becomes more difficult as his eyes slowly start to adjust to the dark conditions below. Suddenly his left boot finds no more rungs… glancing down Marc sees the surface of the sewage glistening weakly in the pale light that comes from high above. Puddy, hovering invisible above the young lad’s head has to halt his descend so he doesn’t land on Marc’s head.
Marc looks up at the little circle of light high above him. “It’s deep.” He whispers to himself. Then he looks down again, thoughtfully. He sheathes his sword and climbs down as low as the ladder will take him. Then he hangs on the lowest rung, takes a deep breath and let’s go. With a loud splash Marc reaches the bottom of the draining. When his head reappears above the syrupy fluid he utters a heartily “Oof!” Some liquid better left not described streams from his curls. Then he hesitatingly immerses his right hand in the stinking stream and unsheathes his sword again. The disgust, so clearly visible on the young man’s face, is quickly replaced by a pleased smile as he sees the halfling approach… then he giggles, she’s even deeper in this than he is.
As Marc makes his ‘descent’, the halfling cautiously walks up to him to see if he’s alright. “Welcome,” she says with a slight smile. “And – that goes for the little djinnling as well…?” In the minimal light, Emlyn’s brown eyes gleam with either eagerness or fear – or possibly a mix of both. “Some of my masters could call on our deity to light their path.” She mutters. “I wish I paid more attention…” Emlyn nods at the flickering light in the distance. “But as it is we’d better hurry…” Even as Emlyn utters these words, vague sounds of sloshing and voices – distorted by the echoing in the tunnels – can be heard. Despite the unintelligible-ness of the words, there is clearly anger in them and one sounds distinctly feminine…
A strange but welcome presence seems to manifest itself within her psyche – almost as if it has always been there, just beyond awareness. Emlyn’s mind flashes briefly back to the situation in the cabin when the strange light destroyed one of the zombie-like farmers; a similar feeling seems to run its course through her being. Then as if it has always been there, she ‘remembers’ certain words and with a strange certainty she knows that uttering them will enable to do as her masters did – call forth light. Surprised the small woman looks at her right hand which is firmly clutched around the symbol of the Crying God.
A shiver running down her spine, Emlyn takes the pendant out of her pocket and slowly, reverently pulls forth the old necklace, holding it out as if it were a lantern in a dark night. Then, she speaks the words nestled in the back of her mind, almost lovingly, as if greeting an old friend… the words course through her and they infuse the wooden symbol with the grace of Ilmater as it starts to shine with a gentle light, providing guidance in the dark and smelly environment. Marc glances up the shaft with a worried face. Before he follows Emlyn into the sewer he entrusts her: “I… I wonder… Did we do wisely, leaving the two of them alone up there?” After a final sad look upward he silently follows Emlyn deeper into these human made caves. The miraculous light she’s carrying seems to distract his attention from his worries for a while. Walking slowly behind the halfling, benefiting under the light she carries, Marc suddenly giggles softly. Then he entrusts Emlyn, on a whispering tone, “It just jumped to my mind… the lady probably will want me to take another bath today!”
More words filter down through the tunnels towards them and a light source bobs up and down as its reflections follow the motions of their source. The sloshing sounds and the other light source draw nearer, it won’t be long until both light bearers will see each other… Suddenly a woman’s voice shouts loudly, “Hold where you are! Announce yourself or may Khelliara take mercy on your soul for daring to impede one of her chosen!” Though distorted by the acoustics of the tunnel, for Marc there is no mistake – Khelliara – that can only be Immerine.
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