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Unread 11th of January, 2013, 06:16
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Gralhruk
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Prelude - Rhain

Tall and spare, like a dark spike thrust into the worn cobbles in one of Sharn's numerous busy alleyways, Rhain stopped suddenly as the image flashed briefly across her mind - some razor toothed fish, barely glimpsed, and then only the silvery flash of scales and tail as it darted into inky waters. The crowd parted around her, scarcely noting the rapt emptiness of her gaze in their haste to arrive at whatever nowhere they sought. Smoke twisted lazily upward from the cigarette held forgotten in her left hand, mingling with the slowly parting fog in her mind. The world without faded completely as her inner eye indolently opened, freeing psychic senses normally held at bay.

In her other hand she held a locket, nothing more than a simple tin disk with a symbol of the Sovereign Host stamped on it - dinted, trivial, cheap. Hundreds like it were thrown into the crowd during the many festivals in the upper wards, but this one was special. The locket's owner was a small girl from the Cogs, Sharn's ill-kept basement for its ill-kept folk. Her life was like the locket to those above her - inconsequential, worthless and easily disposed of. Had the murderer managed to dump the locket into the cauldron of molten iron with her body, no one would have ever known she had existed, no one would ever remember her name.

But Rhain knew, Rhain remembered.

Jenna

And by the Light she would make sure that those responsible knew it too.

Time streamed backwards before her as she attuned herself to the locket, until at last she found what she was looking for. In her mind's eye she saw the street as the little girl saw it, she walked in Jenna's month old footsteps until she arrived at the alley. Jenna had been here, walking on her way back from where she spent the couple of coppers she earned cleaning pipes in the Cogs for some stale bread, when something caught her eye. A kitten, small, gray and covered with dirt mewing from a box just a few yards into the alley. Jenna went to it and picked it up, cradling the mewling animal close. Rhain could feel the cat purring, feel the aching burst of joy as a lonely little girl found something that loved her, that needed her. That stupid little cat was the best thing Jenna had ever known. Just a week ago, standing in the dark shadows of the alley, holding that ragged, purring ball of fluff when something went over her face...a bag...Rhain could feel Jenna's panic through the locket, pulse poundingly real. The smothering darkness that choked her, sending pinpricks of light exploding behind her eyes and dust into her nose. Little hands tore futiley, franticly at the rough fabric as consciousness faded. Her last thoughts were of her cat, and how she didn't want it to get hurt.

With a jerk, the sun-spotted dark gave way to the dim street, the undulating crowd parting around Rhain, their forms still half-hidden by the thick burlap sack over the child's face. From beneath heavy lids her eyes glittered with silver fire, flashing anger despite the marble stillness of her face. The cigarette dropped from her fingers, forgotten. The fingers of her other hand traced the surface of the locket, reading the indentations upon the cheap metal as if it were the most important thing in the world. Reverently, she tucked it away unopened, unwilling to open herself up to memories she didn't need.

Jenna

Slipping into the dark alley Rhain paused for a moment as her vision struggled to adjust. An instant later the ring on her right index finger hummed with power, its arcane energies flooding her vision with a pale light that washed the darkness away. Stepping silently around the piles of rubbish she searched for the spot Jenna's killer would have used to hide.

It didn't take her long to find it - a simple alcove of brick inset into one of the alley's grimy walls. Ostensibly it was designed to be used as an escape from the rain channeled down unto this level from the wards above. It was hidden from the street by a collection of steam pipes rising up from the Cogs below. The pipes were old, tightly packed and as wide as her thigh, but there was just enough space between them to allow a person standing in the alcove to peer between, a hidden vantage but an uobstructed view. Walking around piles of stinking rubbish she touched the walls of the alcove with her hand. Recent images sprang from the stone like so many restless corpses...

...she is lying in the alcove, hands thick and hairy. At her side is an empty bottle of some home brewed liquor that stinks of wood alcohol, and across her chest and over her bloated cirrotic abdomen is a matted black beard. Rhain can feel the alcohol burning in her veins, and it sits on her consciousness like an anvil. Blackness washes over her for what seems like an eternity, then her eyes crawl open to see the alley cast in the ethereal black and white of dwarven nightvision. She can hear strange sounds coming from down the alley, but is unable to move. She can feel the alcohol weighing down her eyes, but before they slide shut she can see the furtive movements of a rat the size of a dog nosing towards her foot. Then blackness, only this time instead of the oblivion of before, there is pain, a horrible gnawing pain that won't go away. She tries to open her eyes, but the liquor is too strong. The pain grows, moving across her legs to her groin and up into her guts. Her drunk eyes roll open, sending the mono-chromatic world spinning in a jumble of brick and pipe and writhing fur. Bright glowing eyes and curved yellow teeth lunge at her face, nibbling out the sweet honey of her eyes before burrowing deeper...

Rhain severs the connection with a shuddering jerk, her hand feeling across her face, making sure everything is still there. The dwarf is too recent, Jenna was taken over a month ago. Sweating and weak from exertion and the sensation of rat teeth across her flesh, she gently placed her splayed hand against the wall once more, willing her self further into the past...

...a prostitute, hands bracing against the wall as a muscled orc took her from behind...

...a dragonblood dealer giving a free taste to a wide eyed human boy no more than eleven, only to have his soul ripped from his body by the boy's latent necromantic abilities...

...a lovers triangle that ended with a butchers cleaver and more food for the rats...

So much more filth flowed through her mind, all of the worst that Sharn can offer, all in this one tiny location. Every life she entered threatened to consume her, but she pushed on. Impossible to right all of the wrongs, and to consider the enormity of what she couldn't do was the to madness. There was only one that mattered right now, one she would let in.

And then she found it - an electric sensation of anticipation that was almost drowned out by the abject misery of the alley. It was perhaps the reason why he chose the alley in the first place. What better way to cover a crime from divinatory magic than to perform it in a place reeking of crime. Rhain could feel the excitement, but there was something wrong...something blocking her. Rhain's jaw tightens with the realization that her murderer was Gifted, and that changed everything.

She quickly pulls her mind from the alcove, afraid that the mental resonance may have already alerted her quarry. It was possible that his gift was latent, or an uncontrollable wyld talent, but she was taught to never assume such niceties. Crouching down in the alcove she pulls out a dagger and begins carefully sifting through years of detritus. It takes almost two hours of searching before she finds something of use - cigarette butts, cast against the wall and forgotten about a month ago. Carefully skewering one with her blade she held it up, the gold lettering on the paper still visible: Eh Lorhas extra fine Xen'drik Longs. At over a gold for a box of ten there were only a handful of stores in Upper Sharn that carried them.

The implications tumbled helter-skelter through her mind - the assailant Gifted, rich, waiting in the filth of this alley. Her features smoothed and her expression grew almost bored as she schooled away the surface emotions. Beneath the facade her anger roiled, churning with the steady beat of her heart. Sharn was a heartless city, grinding up the meager lives of even those survivors that managed to make a life here. Yet Jenna had not been a victim of random violence by some unthinking savage. There was motive, patience, purpose. She could see their phantoms, there in the dark, the vague outlines implying some hulking, sinister beast.

She bows her head silently, mute tribute to the lives that had languished and ended in this stinking place. It was the way of this world, but there was another old rule as well: revenge. Preying on the weak was easy but not, she vowed, without consequence.

Retracing her steps carefully, she merges into the steady stream of traffic, following a haphazard course to upper Sharn. It was a small lead, but that might be all she needed to find her answers.

by -J- and Gral
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