Callindra paused, feeling the tension of her friends behind her. The creak of Holt’s bow. The random sparks arcing from Connor’s wands. Vilhylm’s steady spear. Kain’s calm intensity. Reed’s barely contained violence. Knowing they were with her, she lowered her sword.
“Very well, we would like to meet her.” She said carefully.
“Excellent!” He smiled disarmingly and turned to saunter back down the alleyway. “Follow me, I will show you the wonders of the Undercity. You look a tad road weary; you should rest, wash and change before meeting Ellen Eth.”
Glancing at her friends, Callindra tried to shrug nonchalantly. “Well, we wanted to find survivors. Let’s see who this Lady is.”
“I don’t like this.” Holt said, arrow still on the string. “This alley is surrounded by places that could easily be sniper nests.”
“It’s probably a trap.” Reed said, checking the knives up his sleeves nervously.
“Maybe, but that soldier looked well equipped and well fed.” Callindra said. “I can’t argue with his assessment either. I’m tired of being hungry, tired and dirty.”
She squared her shoulders and followed him. Halfway down the alley, Callindra could tell they were right, there were at least a half dozen pairs of eyes watching them from behind the glint of arrowheads. It took all her willpower not to stare at them.
At the end of the alley Renfeld opened a door and then unlocked a reinforced iron door behind it with a key that hung around his neck. The hallway beyond bristled with spear points in front and crossbows behind.
“Renfeld, you stain what’re you thinking?” One of the soldiers holding a spear growled. She had a scar that bisected her nose and left a thin white line underneath her right eye. “You know better than to bring them straight in without the test.”
“We just saw them take on the giant squid and win.” Renfeld laughed, “Angalus, you can’t be serious, not even the Tidoh maniacs fought their way in.”
“The test.” Angalus hissed, pushing the spear forward. “Now.”
“Sorry friends, she’s serious I’m afraid.” Renfeld said, a pair of knives seeming to appear in his hands. “You’re going to have to look into her eyes and not blink.”
Angalus held a small round mirror in her hand and muttered something under her breath. A brilliant light shone from it directly into Callindra’s face. Her eyes watered, but she knew what the test entailed and what failing it would mean. The light passed over the faces of all her companions, pausing for a few moments on each before finally being muttered to darkness again.
“I told you they were fine.” Renfeld said with a grin that didn’t touch his eyes. He didn’t sheath his daggers until Angalus grounded the butt of her spear and waved them inside with a curt gesture.
“Do this again and I’ll gut you.” She said, giving him a flinty glare. He ignored her, making the daggers vanish up his sleeves with a skill that rivaled Reed’s clever fingers.
Once they passed another door made of iron that only opened after another inspection and an exchange of passcodes they were assaulted with a riot of scents, sounds and sights that screamed of the everyday reality of a vibrant mortal city. Hawkers cried wares, brightly painted buildings sprouted from the walls like giant mushrooms.
It was like a sewer, but so much larger, and made of multiple tiers. The walls were hundreds of times wider and taller than they should have been and had been altered to allow for the buildings foundations to gain purchase. Some of the structures were obviously built after the city had been taken, but many of them seemed as though they had been transported from above. Some seemed to have fallen, walls cracked and patched as though from an impact, but others looked as though some agency of magic or industry of labor had moved them here brick by brick.
The structures were packed tight and a winding ramp wide enough for an ox drawn cart had been carved out of the wall. Arcane lights shone on every street corner, high above the rooftops and smaller ones above the heads of many of the citizens. Everywhere there were people talking, trading, eating, laughing and generally going about their daily lives. It was almost too much.
Renfeld stopped before a building that appeared to once have been grand, but was now long past its prime. Peeling paint and broken boards adorned its porch and all but one of the windows was cracked. A sign hung from a rusted chain proclaiming it ‘The Pickled Fisherman’ in carefully stenciled letters.
“We should keep a low profile if we can to try and gather as much information as we can before we meet the Lady.” Callindra said to her friends, trying to keep her voice low enough that their guide wouldn’t notice. He strode up the creaking steps and addressed the middle aged matron leaning on a stout oak staff and sipping from a tankard.
“Hagar, I’ve got some new faces for you.” He said with a sweep of his arm that took in their bedraggled appearance.
“You always bring me the best surprises.” She said, eyes roving over them with a mercenary gaze. “Well new faces, whaddya have to trade me fer the privilege of staying under these venerable rafters?”