In the Dark

Oaks could not believe his luck. After leaving the Rovers guild they had hit the taverns trying to find word of the Rising Star operatives, but the name Fiasco either drew blank looks or caused people to disappear quickly. One old Dusker had even pulled a gun on Gabriel at the mention of the name. Gabriel had shot the stranger in the foot and relieved him of his weapon. Oaks supposed it could have been worse.

They had been thrown out of their third establishment when Gabriel had the idea to try the Ashen slums. Outside of the Graymire walls a the Ashen lived in numerous communities, some close to the town and others quite far out into the wastes. The entire territory was protected by an outer perimeter of course, nobody lived completely open to the Darklands, nobody who wanted to live for long.

It had been a short walk to one of the security gates, but then the problems had started. Bloody Elesians overseeing the Dusk soldiers meant that they were being difficult bastards and no matter how he demanded or how Gabriel employed his silver tongue of his they could not get through. The men had actually laughed when he had called on the authority of the First Citizen giving credence to the words of the old Rover. At last they gave up and made to leave.

It was then that the woman had called them over. It would appear that they were not the only ones seeking passage into the slums that day and there was saftey in numbers. After brief introductions she took them to her companions. A strange group to be sure. One wearing an odd looking mask to hide his features and the other, a hunch back it would seem with a wild cast to his eye. For a moment he had second thoughts but then they were moving and to his utter amazement the plan had worked.

He was in the Ashen territory, in the distance he could make out some of their closer camps and he wondered which direction he should travel to find his quarry. Gabriel was frowning down at the red mark on his arm where the tag had been inserted and despite himself Oaks rubbed his own mark and wondered how he could get it removed without the threatened "consequences."

"So..." Gabriel said breaking the silence of the group, "Which one of you is Fiasco? We have some business to discuss..."

Oaks started and looked around at the group his mouth agape. Gabriel was wearing his smarmy grin and the others looked like they might just be ready to gut the two of them on the spot.

***

Maromichali Mortimer was in his element. One of the Rovers had given him a contact in the Ashen camps and from there he had managed to barter his way in to one of the many "back doors" in to the Delve. Gods the Delve, he had only ever dreamed of studying the underworld mines up close like this. The caverns down here were filled with strange flora and fungi that just did not exist in the world above. He could take but a few of them back to Dusk he could make scientific history.

The Ashen guide he had employed kept a wary distance from the old man, stating the he was "carrying a demon," what ever that meant. The Ashen were a fascinating people but gods were they superstitious, they made the underground cults back in Dusk look tame by comparison.

They had been within the Delve for three days now and Mortimer was running low on breather apparatus and the other medication that kept him functioning in this toxic atmosphere. The Ashen knew of stashes down here and from time to time they would attack miners or even Dusk soldiers to top up those supplies. Truth be told the Ashen were one of the reasons the Duskers employed Delve Hounds. There were other reason that the scientist did not wish to think about.

"Aret." he called over to the Ashen and for a moment the man ignored him, "Aret come here."

The Ashen guide gave a sigh and walked over, his glare disproving. "What foolishness do you wish to share with me now?" the man asked.

"Don't be an arse man, give me your knife."

The Ashen reeled back as if slapped and gripped the handle of his large hunting knife tightly. Bloody Ashen tradition and honor, Mortimer supposed he had committed some grave insult... he did not care.

"Listen I need to cut a sample from this root and tools I have are not heavy enough for the job. If I cant touch your precocious knife then get here and cut it for me."

With a curse the Ashen drew his blade and Mortimer flinched as he walked towards him with the knife raised. For a moment he was worried he had gone too far and the Ashen was about to slit his throat, but instead the man knelt and cut away the root handing it up to him.

"Thank you." he said and froze as two green eyes rounded a corner up ahead and blinked down at him in the darkness. Black lips curled back to reveal sharp white teeth and a blood red tongue. The beast was as big as a pony and Mortimer scrambled back away from it as it slowly padded forward releasing a low warning growl.

"Death comes." Aret breathed as he unsheathed his weapons and placed himself between Mortimer and the Delve Hound. For a long moment Ashen and hound watched each other tense and ready and then with a viscous snarl the beast lept forward.

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