Ishaar’ha took a deep breath as the scented fabric of her clean garb filled the air. Uktu’kutu spared no expense when it came to treating his guests. She walked down the steps, eyeing now carefully the images upon the wall, pictures and paintings of landscapes and people. At the bottom she met once more with the man of the manor. His demeanour had not changed since their last exchange of thought.
“Be careful.” he said. “I know these are your people, but remember that the minds of the weak can be twisted if outward circumstances are unfavourable.”
“This is an unfortunate truth.” answered she.
“You will need to seek passage unseen. It is known to many your importance within the tribes, hence the interest to sway you in the kings favour.” said Uktu, stroking his beard as they walked together through the entrance hall, toward the Door.
“Only a naive mind would think you unwatched. Be cautious, I sense the cleric, Soik, may have set his hounds loose.”
Ishaar’ha turned to look at Uktu, her fiery red eyes, a sea of thought. “I believe no harm shall befall me.”
Uktu’kutu smiled, opening the door. “I have set up a meeting at the square. He will be waiting for you.” he said, and Ishaar’ha nodded, bowing before she walked out and onto the busy streets of Nheede.
The people went about their business as usual. The darkness did not impede their daily routines, though a somber expression was evident upon the faces of some passerbys. The mere thought of no sunshine in a land infamous for its long days and short nights had begun to take its toll on the citizens.
Ishaar’ha began to walk down the uncharacteristically wide street, admiring the beautiful achitecture of the wealthy neighbourhood passing her by. It did not take long for the cityscape to change however, as she continued toward her destination. She noticed the homes around her begin to deteriorate, and the faces of the people change, and as she gazed down a dark alley, she locked eyes with a Young man, a murderous, primal glint in his eye and a dagger flashing, dangling from his belt.
“Almost there.” she thought to herself, turning away and attempting to stay calm, seeing in the distance revealed, a tall iron statue at the center of a square. And as she approached it, the already thinning crowds all but disappeared, and the statues reverence became apparent – it was San’toulan, the commander of the Priest Kings army. His armour forged in the likeness of the demon Zaigatsu, the one said to have waged war against the giant lords of Khal’kuta in ages past.
The large square was filled with soldiers, with more marching out from within an army barracks beside it. With bated breath, Ishaar’ha quickly slipped into the shadows of the building at her side, avoiding their eyes, assessing the group carefully. One soldier stood before the rest, the armours shape betraying the figure of a woman, speaking to the men before her.
“We strike swiftly. We strike hard.” she said, clenching her fist within her gauntlet.
Ishaar’ha saw what appeared to be the bodies of three men at the feet of the woman, fully wrapped in white blankets from head to toe. It would seem she had met the most inopportune moment for the need to enter the slums, as she gazed at the archway leading into them and the bulwark of soldiers now standing between her and her destination. A tall wall surrounded the forgotten district too, making it into an almost inpenetrable fortress.
“Where is he?” she thought to herself, eyeing her surroundings.
“This way…” whispered a voice from behind.
The Tar woman turned round and within the shadows, a silhouette appeared barely visible, a vestige of the man she was to meet, dashing quickly into a dark passage. Ishaar’ha followed wearily, treading carefully as she left behind the square and the soldiers. At the far side of the dead-end alley way hung a lantern and beneath it stood he. His face hidden, only his eyes apparent, reflecting the light above his head. Ishaar’ha approached cautiously.
“It has been a while.” he said, removing his mask.
“Sylan!” she said, instantly recognizing him, shedding her fears and embracing him.
“In the flesh.” he answered sprightly, a little flustered.
Sylan was a handsome young man, about eighteen years of age. He had large brown eyes and black hair. He was thin but muscular and had an athletic spring in his step. A rope hanging from his belt, along with a small pouch. His clothes were ragged and unkempt, though he bore them confidently. A long cloak hung across his back too, paired perfectly with the rest of his shabby attire.
“I hear you are to meet the Elders.” he said, his hands upon her shoulders.
“Yes. But there is a problem. The soldiers…”
“It’s a raid.” he interrupted. “Come.” he said, grasping her hand tightly. They quickly approached a door leading into one of the buildings. The young man reached into his pouch, taking out a small lockpick.
“Time me.” he said.
“What?” answered Ishaar’ha, perplexed.
“Count to ten in your head.” he said once again, kneeling down and inserting the lockpick into the keyhole.
Ishaar’ha shrugged, but before she could even begin, the door unlocked and the boy stood up, resting his hands on his hips triumphantly.
“How long was it? Wait. Don’t tell me. You didn’t even start.” he said, snorting awkwardly, waving his hand. “You can tell me later how impressed you are, but we have no time for that, we’re in a hurry.”
The Tar woman sighed, as he grasped her hand once again and they entered the building. The door lead into what appeared to be a wine-cellar, filled with dusty bottles and cobwebs.
“This used to be the home of a wealthy man.” said Sylan. “Apparently he fled the place during one of the riots. He just up and left all this wine! What a dunce!”
The young man lead Ishaar’ha through the cellar, going down some steps leading underground, into a room now filled with barrels, equal in aesthetics to the one above. It felt like a maze as they walked through the corridors of brown drums at their sides, before stopping at a wall abruptly. On the empty shelves upon it, candles illuminated a hatch on the ground.
“Oi! Wake up idiot!” the young man shouted, stomping on the trap-door.
And the hatch swung open, revealing a young boy, much younger than Sylan, wearing vestments equally threadbear.
“Whys’ the hatch closed?!” said Sylan, his eyes exageratedly widened.
“…ugh… I was just restin’ ma’ eyes…” said the little one, yawning.
“Idiot!” said Sylan, flicking the kids forehead, before clearing his throat and turning to Ishaar’ha.
“Ladies first.” he said, leading her hand courteously as she began to climb down. The boy rubbed his forehead, gesturing down the large candle-lit tunnel.
“This be leadin’ passed to the wall.” said he, not quite grasping the syntax of the common tongue.
The young man jumped down behind Ishaar’ha, closing the hatch in the process. And the three ambled down the tunnel, reaching the end momentarily, a trap-door equal to the one left behind greeting them on the other side.
“Open up!” said Sylan. “What is it with you people?” he continued, flicking the kids forehead once more.
“Hey! Why you do this?!” grumbled the kid, cringing.
“These tunnels were used to smuggle alcohol into the district, that is how the man became so rich!” said Sylan.
The trap-door soon opened, and out poked the head of yet another child. A little girl smiling at them from above, cheekily.
“Well, well…” she said, resting her chin on her palms.
“Lower the ladder.” said Sylan.
“Whatcha’ gonna’ give me?” said she.
Sylan fumed, then sighed. “I’ll give you some of my stashed sweet-rolls.” said he.
“How many?” asked the girl.
“One.” answered Sylan.
“Two.” said the girl.
“Alright, fine.” said he.
A crashing sound was heard from above. Then another. And then a sound of wood sliding upon the floor. The ladder soon appeared and Sylan jumped up to grab it, lowering it down. Ishaar’ha climbed up, looking back at the two who stayed behind.
“I need to make sure no one followed us.” said the young man. “Let’s go Guth.”
The girl closed the hatch behind them, giggling, then looked up at Ishaar’ha.
“Go up the stairs, down the corridor to your left. The broken door will lead you onto the main street.” said she, sitting down crosslegged upon the trap-door.
“I gotta’ wait for these two bozos. Maybe I’ll get another sweet-roll out of it.” she said, gleefully.
Ishaar’ha followed the little girls instructions, ascending the decrepid staircase into the long hall, turning left and arriving at the exit. The loud noises coming from behind the thick wooden door were muffled. She took a deep breath, grasping the handle tightly and swung the door open. The deafening sounds of the crowds rushing about outside filled her ear. The destitute, forgotten Tar district revelead itself before her in all its glory and its wild soul bursted at the seams. Word of the raid had reached her people and Ishaar’ha once again found herself in the middle of a crazed crowd.