Son heaped the last of the dog-sized rats onto the pile. “A truly unappetizing sight,” said Niavara as she stepped to avoid a pool of warm rat blood oozing out from beneath the mound of fur. It trickled a slow, slippery zig-zag pattern through the cobblestones to the low center of the room.
“What should we do with them?” Asked Falco, “We can’t set a fire down here.”
“Contrary to the witch-elf’s belief,” Ironbrand guffawed. “Surely it’d be possible to just spirit the lot away. It’s that or we get our hands bloody.”
Niavara shook her head, “Bringing things in is a simpler matter than sending, I’m afraid.”
“Then perhaps you’d best bring in a wheelbarra’, love.”
An hour later the rats were gone, a few candles had been lit, and the floor was beginning to feel clean – or at least as clean as it was likely ever to get. A small iron stove in the corner did its paltry best to push warmth out across the room, but the others continued to complain about the smell of mildew. Once the rats had been hauled off to the alley behind the building and burned, Son had set to work sweeping and scrubbing every surface within reach. Now done, he could think of nothing else to do with himself. He propped up against a wall and watched the stout dwarf poke at his new mattress.
“Truly fine lodgings these Orrifin lot provide,” he said.
“I’m not complaining,” replied the small Falco. “Better a dingy bedroll in a damp basement than a rock for your pillow and rain clouds to make your blanket.”
“Mm, well said, lad,” Usill conceded.
Before long the dwarf found his own contentment with the lumpy bed and fell into a rumbling sleep with the halfling close behind. Geroldt sat by the warmth of the stove for a time. Having fashioned a short table and stool out of a pair of old crates he went about the quiet task of honing his sword’s edge. The deliberate, persistent movement of steel on stone rang as soothing to the Warforged as a babbling brook.
Without looking up from his chore, Geroldt asked Son, “do you sleep?”
“Not often. Not long.”
The man inspected his sword in the stove light and, apparently satisfied, stood. “I suppose that means you’ll be watching over us every night. Just mind that you both keep your hands to your own.”
Son didn’t answer, though Niavara, who was sitting still as stone on her bed at the shadowy far corner of the room cooed low and deep, “it’s not necessarily my hands that need your worrying, human.” If Geroldt was pushed aback by her sultry repose he didn’t choose to show it. In a short time the only two of the band left awake were Son and the Eladrin.
She flicked her fingers and one by one the candles around the room were extinguished. The only light that now remained wavered through the slats in the wood stove, the only sound the dripping of water behind the walls. The elf’s eyes burned like soft blue embers in the shadows, never shifting, rarely blinking. Surely she would take to her sleep soon as well, leaving him alone.
The night continued, another long wait for the dawn. Son had grown used to the waiting in his short life, and had discovered a particular talent for approximating the death of an unfed fire, which he used to tell time on nights when the stars were obscured. The stove’s flames died relatively quickly, and in just two hours there was naught but the heat of the coals emanating from the iron appliance. Snores bounced off the cold stone, but in between, there was quiet.
A frantic knocking at the door upstairs broke the peaceful silence. It was still hours before dawn, perhaps Carric had returned.
Upstairs, the knocking had slowed. Thick as the wooden front door to the building was, Son could hear a winded voice on the other side, gasping, “please… please…” He opened the door and a woman fell into the Orrifin Agency.
She was clutching her middle. Ruby blood stained the rug on which she was now prostrate. Breath shuddering, she appeared to be barely concious.
Niavara emerged from the stairwell and surveyed the scene. Son looked to her, then back at the black haired stranger. With a gentle nudge of his large metal foot he rolled the woman onto her back. Her hands were coated with the blood and clutching a very large stab wound in her belly. Son had seen injured humans before, but they had all died within minutes of receiving their injuries. Perhaps this one would as well.
A large purse had fallen alongside her, which Niavara was now inspecting. Currency clinked inside, a good sum from the sound of it, but rather than a handful of coins the elf removed a small leather bound book.
“Green grasses, what’ve ya done?” Usill shouted. He ran with stomping footfalls to the
woman’s side, elbowing Son out of the open door.
“We have done nothing,” Son said.
“That much is obvious, ya great fool!” the dwarf admonished. Though she was not awake, it took some effort for Usil to unbind the woman’s clenched fingers and inspect the wound. He spoke to her softly, saying “Come now, dear, let me see then. That’s right. You’re safe now. You’re safe now.”
“Elf,” Usil commanded, “wake that Geroldt and bring him here. We’ll need more than a needle and thread to staunch her bleeding.”
It took a moment for Son to realize that Niavara had melted into the background of the scene. There was a brief pause, but she acquiesced. Moments later, the five new companions were standing in the foyer. Geroldt knelt opposite Usil to inspect the woman’s wounds. “This is very bad. It’s a knife wound and quite deep. I don’t know if it missed her gullet or not,” Usil summarized.
Geroldt made his own assessment and was apparently in agreement. “You’re right but there’s something more. I think I can stop her from dying here but we need a healer stronger than me to keep her going.” He cut the woman’s silk shirt to expose her midriff, then, starting at opposite ends and moving slowly inward, traced his fingers along the bloody wound while whispering words in a language Son had never heard before. A green light emanated from under his fingernails and seeped into the woman’s exposed flesh, followed by a wisp of gray smoke.
Though unconscious, the woman struggled under Geroldt’s touch. “Easy, lass. I know, I know,” Usil said gently. Each time she writhed the rough and bearded dwarf was there with words of comfort, which evidently worked. Son suddenly felt very useless.
“What can I do?” He asked.
“Go fetch a blasted healer, and be quick about it.”
Falco volunteered to go as well. “I know of a healing house nearby. We’ll be back in a few minutes.”