Viggo slipped through the shadows of Rego Cader, listening to the silence of the Westcrown night settling onto the streets. Every so often, he thought he caught a glimpse of a fellow traveler, braving both the ruins of the Dead Sector and the dark creatures that hunted the city’s paths after sundown. The young Halfling felt his heart racing, and he silently cursed his own nerves. It wasn’t the Shadowbeasts that scared him. No, it was his destination tonight that made him nervous, made his stomach curl in on itself and try to leap out of his throat. Viggo clambered over a pile of rubble, slipping under a large chuck of masonry that leaned against the wall to his left. The Hole, as it was called by his people, was the stuff of urban legend. Scarier to a young Halfling than either shadow creatures or Hell Knights, the Hole was a place only the insane would seek out, but Viggo was desperate. Every day he watched his people suffer, and the power of the humans showed no signs of waning. He needed help . . . the kind of help that others wouldn’t dare seek. His hand went to the pack across his back. He felt something shift inside it.
This group of Arael’s. It was hard to take them seriously with their talk of signs and uniforms. And it was clear that their goals were not his. He wanted freedom for his people, and if it meant taking down the Thrice-Damned Throne itself, then he would do that. These others seemed unconcerned with the slaves that worked among them. It seemed like he was the only one even talking about the issue. All they talked about were the shadow beasts. That and team hats.
Viggo peered into the street in front of him. He felt like this was the place. Who could tell in the dark? And it wasn’t like the streets were labeled . . . not in this part of town. But he was pretty sure this was where the old woman told to go. Of course, the hag was mad as a privy rat. And his questions about the Hole had driven her into a frenzy. He’d had to hold her down and cover her mouth for fear that her screams would betray his plans. But finally after much cajoling and even more threats, she had told him where to go.
Across the street, he saw a form limp from one shadow to another. Was that his contact? Or was that one of those blasted shadows? Viggo cursed under his breath. Bugger this, he thought. He stood up, checked his daggers in their wrist sheaths, and strode boldly across the street to where he saw the form disappear.
“Oi. You there. Come out here and speak. Viggo Blackbriar has business with you.”
There were long seconds of silence, and then a raspy voice issued from the darkness.
“And what business would young Viggo have on a dangerous night like this? Do yer brothers know yer out here, boy?”
Viggo’s stomach tightened. “What the hell do you know about my brothers?” His face felt hot.
“Oh, nothing, nothing. This old man knows very little of worth. Just a poor old beggar, trying to survive in the dark,” the voice croaked. Viggo could make out the shape of a small figure, huddled against a wall. “What do you want, child?”
“I’m looking for . . . something,” Viggo replied with a stammer. What were the words the mad woman used? Oh, yes. “I’m looking for some help. But I can’t see where to find it.”
The figure was silent. Then slowly it raised its hand. Viggo could barely make out the silhouette, but it seemed to pointing up the building in front of him.
“Up there?” he asked with disbelief. The thing before him was silent.
“Gods dammit,” Viggo growled and then began clambering up the broken masonry in front of him. He moved quickly, mostly out of fear that he would lose his nerve. The thing in his pack moved again, and Viggo’s stomach spasmed. Within moments, the halfling had climbed, jumped and scrambled up the building’s face and onto the roof. Atop the building, like in many of the ghettos of Westcrown, was a cluster of shanties and lean-tos. But unlike those other places, these showed no signs of inhabitants. And the silence was heavy, oppressive. The shacks lay to his left and right, forming a natural alley. He crouched down and crept along, the starlight providing him with enough illumination to make out rough shapes. Viggo abruptly found himself at a dead end. In front of him, in the shadows of the surrounding ragged structures, was a small alcove. He peered in and found a raised flat surface.
An altar, he thought. He looked closer. He could make out black stains smeared across its surface. His bag jumped again, and Viggo fought the urge to wretch. This is it. The Hole. The secret temple to the Crooked Man. Ol’ Hook. The dark halfling god himself, Thamir Gixx.
Gixx was a dirty secret in the halfling community. His followers were generally assassins and madmen, often both. Gixx himself served as a boogeyman to Halfling children. Often Viggo’s mother had told him that if he didn’t straighten up, Ol’ Hook would come and get him. A chill ran down his spine.
Well, dammit. This is what you came for, boy. Get it done or get going, he thought to himself. He was surprised to find sweat dripping into his eyes, and he wiped it away with annoyance. He pulled the bag from off his back. The night seemed to have gone still as Viggo squatted down at the small altar in front of him. Taking a deep breath, he reached in and pulled the mangy cat from his bag.
“I call on you, Thamir Gixx,” he whispered. “I call on you to bless my endeavors. I call on you to give me strength. Give me the power to defend your people and I will give you blood in return. First this offering,” he motioned at the squirming, hissing cat in his left hand,” and then the blood of the humans. I will give you all the blood you can handle.” With that, Viggo slashed his dagger down the abdomen of the cat. The dying animal let out a high-pitched scream, one that seemed to grow louder and louder in his ears, echoing into the night around him. And then silence.
Viggo threw himself back away from the alcove. He found himself on his hands and knees, vomiting violently. He felt weak, feverish as he crawled back down the alley, almost pitching over the edge of the roof. Viggo made his way down the face of the building in a haze. At the bottom, the street was still empty and quiet. There was no sign of the figure that he spoke to before.
His strength seemed to return the further he got from that . . . place. As he made his way back through the shadows of Rego Cader towards his quarters down in Rego Sacero, his mind began to race. Viggo started to make plans for the future. Dark plans. He would start by gathering others like him, halflings who had had enough. Halflings that could do what it took. Then he would get the humans attention. There would be blood, he thought. There would be enough blood to wake up this whole damn city, to show them all that halflings weren’t chattel to be blithely bought and sold.
Viggo made plans, lots of plans, all the while trying to quiet the voice in the back of his mind telling him that tonight he had made a terrible mistake.