There you are!” 

 The Katari responded to the accusatory tone calmly, expecting the two figures in silver-embellished robes at the door to be his collaborators in this venture. When he looked up, however, he faced two familiar dwarven women who he’d never intended to introduce. 

 “I am precisely where I … oh!”

The familiar silver-haired Dwarven beauty he’d seduced to get the key for this very room lowered her hood and brushed wisps of white hair from her face. “You Mother Fucker!” She barked, advancing on the surprised stray, “You ghost me for three weeks and then show up at my fucking job!?!” She began swatting at him like a toddler in a tantrum, “How did you even get in here?” 

“Bonida! W-wha ..!” The flustered feline looked over her shoulder pleadingly to see a shocked Gulkor in matching chapel robes standing behind the angry woman. 

“Is THIS the slut you cheated with?!?” The quick-witted blacksmith called out from behind the silver-haired dwarf. Bonida turned to her ‘colleague’ and was struck before she could speak. The shocked woman recoiled, stumbling back into the Katari with a red hand print on her fair skin. He quickly picked her off her feet and turned around, placing himself between them. 

“Whoa! Whoa! We talked about this,“  The feline bought into the ruse and held them at arm’s length, and turned to Gulkor, pretending to try and diffuse the situation. “You know I was only attracted to her because she looks like you!” The feline reached out and tenderly took Gulkor's white braid into his hand, letting the loose knots slide gently through his palm. He tightened his grip on the end of the ponytail and softened his tone, and gave it a playful tug as he spoke, “You know you can’t up and leave me like you did.” 

“I’m sorry,” Bonida attempted to interject from her hiding place behind the Katari, holding her rosy cheek, “I didn’t kn…” 

“FUCK YOU!” Gulkor, who’d softened at the tug, but had continued to glare at the silver-haired Bonida lunged, reaching past the Katari blocking her path, to fight the horrified doppelganger. The feline's feet slid across the stone floor as Gulkor pushed for her adversary. “Skinny bitch! I’ll fucking kill you!” Bonida jumped back with a screech as tears welled in her eyes.

“Okay! Okay, let’s just go home!” The Katari dug his claws into the floor and clasped Gulkor by the shoulders. He turned her around and led her back out the door. He turned back to the silver-haired Bonida, standing tear stained, dumbfounded, and visibly shaken. Confident that she would keep the incident to herself until they were able to complete their task, he mouthed a feingned apology and closed the door on her. 

In the cavernous corridor, Gulkor leaned back against the cenotaph, a hand over her racing heart as the Katari secured the door. “That was fucking close!” She said with a look, but as she opened her mouth he raised a finger to his lips. 

NO!” The Katari barked loudly, his back against the closed door. “Of course not!” He waited another moment, his finger to his lips, listening to the young woman sob in the next room.  A few minutes later he heard the ring of the service bell from the upstairs washroom and the door at the other end of the storage room close. He moved away from the door but continued to speak in a whisper, ”She was not supposed to be here today.” 

“You didn’t tell me she was so beautiful“ Gulkor replied, a twinge of jealousy in her voice which the Katari chose not to acknowledge. 

“Where’s Grim?” The feline looked up and down the hallway, checking for guards and the mercenary. “He was supposed to come with you.”

“We were assigned to different tasks,” She stated casually, suggesting that he would be along shortly if “The Oath was as good as their reputation.” 

The Midnight Oath was a guild of Mercenaries who, by rumour or reputation, were known to work for the betterment of the realm. Whether that meant for the betterment of the ruling class, the working people or the tourists was up for some debate. Politicians referred to them as dissidents and terrorists, while the general public seemed divided. Those who’d been directly aided in some way often called them Freedom Fighters but those who’ve been injured in some way, either through the loss of family or finances preferred the term “False-Flag Insurgents”. 

“Is this the Momument to Thesaro!?” Gulkor asked, approaching the obelisk on the opposite side of the cavern. She reached up to run her fingers over the sculpted marble, as she circled the structure. “They say it's thousands of years old!”

The Feline opened his notebook and read from a tourism brochure, “The Cenotaph to the Grande Mage Thesaro was placed here to celebrate the rich and diverse cultural history of the region and its people throughout the ages. Its position within this community is meant to represent the collective mind of the people and their goals in life for themselves and this community ...” 

“... the collective mind of the people and their goals?!?” Gulkor mocked, looking up at the polished tentacles of an octopus, “I’ve been here my whole life. You know how many Octopussy I’ve seen?” 

“Octopi” The Katari corrected.    

“Not a single, fucking, O…” She continued, ignoring him. She stood on her toes to feel along the top of the octopi’s bulbous head but as she dropped to her heels she felt the animal move. “Shit!” The Dwarf instinctively yanked her hands away from the carving, assuming she’d broken it.

“Right!?!” The Feline responded, leafing through his notebook. “A monument to aquatic life buried in a mountain? It doesn’t make sense, unless …” He flipped through several pages of his notebook stopping to examine a sketched blueprint of a cylindrical locking mechanism, “ … it’s some kind of coded reference or …”

Gulkor reached tentatively up to the Octopus again, trying to push it back into place and felt the carving rock slightly in her hand. From her lower vantage, she noticed a slot behind the carving which allowed the carving to move. She hopped onto her toes once again, curled her fingers over the top of the embossing and sunk to her heels. The octopus carving shifted down several inches. “It moved!”

The Katari’s keen ears picked up the grinding of stone against stone some meters beneath the cavern. “It did more than that!” He snapped his book closed and tucked it into his bag as he moved to the little woman. “What did you do?”

She showed him the Octopus carving and the clean spot on the monument where it had rested only a moment ago. The Katari’s height allowed him to reach the carvings more easily and playing with the structure they found that each of the carvings, save the crest, could be moved one position up or down. Once positioned, the column could be rotated in each of the three positions, allowing the three carvings to be stacked one above the other on one side of the column, leaving the crest of Thesaro on the opposing side. Each time they repositioned one of the carvings the movement was followed by a moment or two of stone grinding some meters below them. 

After five or so minutes of noise-making, the two heard approaching voices. They positioned themselves deep into the Cenotaph alcove to avoid being seen for as long as possible. The Feline pulled out the rag from earlier and pretended to be polishing the monument when the two figures reached them.

“Mais non, “ The familiar elven voice descending the stairs stated, with authority. “The pews are solid granite, you can’t store anything in or under them.” A tall robed figure stepped into view accompanied by a dwarf in regal armour. 

“You’d think the maintenance staff would fucking know that!” The guard’s familiar voice grumbled. The dwarven guard the Katari had sent on a fool's errand returned to the door to the storage room. The robed figure stepped up behind the man, spotting the two cowering in the alcove.

“Think I’d know what?” The feline asked sharply, stepping into the corridor. 

“Mother-Fucker!” The guard jumped at the unexpected response. “You!” He pointed a shaky finger at the feline, “You told me the Urn of Abundance was under Pew 50,”

“It is.” The Katari interrupted, He smiled in that unhelpful manner service employees used whenever he’d try and skirt refund policies. 

“Yeah, well this guy says the pews are solid granite, so …”

“They are!” The feline confirmed, holding his unhelpful smile. He licked his thumb and smoothed the whiskers on his face, as he watched the guard's face twist in knots as he tried to reconcile the conflicting statements. He allowed the Dwarven man to huff a few times as he formulated his response. “Except for pews 17, 33, 50,” He paused, cocking his eyes up to the left as he pretended to remember, “... 83, 133, and 216.” He tucked his rag into his pocket and began counting on his fingers. “The Urn is under 50, with the charity plates, 33 holds extra cleric’s robes, 83 has the Harmony Day decorations, …

“Okay, okay, so how do I find Pew 50?” The guard asked exasperated.

“Oh!” The quick-witted Katari’s smile widened, “Stand with your back to the altar and count from the bottom left corner.” 

“They’re not numbered?!? For the love of …” The dwarven guard stomped back up the stairs muttering profanities under his breath. 

The feline turned to his dwarven companion sanding nervously nearby, ”You’d think security would know that.”  He snickered under his breath, knowing that the pews were, in fact, neither numbered or hollow. 

When he was no longer in earshot Gulkor looked up at the tall elven man in matching robes. “So, where’s our gear?” He moved toward the door to the storage room, “Oh!” The dwarf stopped him, ”Umm, you’d better let me …” She motioned for the other two to remain out of view, gave the feline a sideways glance, then took a deep breath and threw the door open angrily. “C’mere Bitch!”

A squawk emanated from in the room, followed quickly by Bonida’s voice crying out in terror. “I’m Sorry! I didn’t know!” A door slammed shut followed by the click of a lock, and Bonida’s voice called from the other side. “Please leave me alone!” Gulkor smiled as she walked to the far door, played with the door handle a little, then cussed and banged her fists on it until she heard footsteps retreat up the stairs. They quietly retrieved their gear from a crate in the corner and exited the hallway dressed for adventure. 

The Katari began to play with the carvings on the cenotaph once. He positioned them in different sequences: the crab at the top, the jellyfish at the bottom, the Octopus at the top, and the crab at the bottom. Each time he waited for a long sequence of grinding noises beneath them but ultimately nothing happened.

“Shit!” Gulkor stopped him, “Don’t bother.”  She showed him the diagram from his notebook, “This lever? it’s somewhere beneath us.” The Katari took the book from her and examined the diagram briefly to confirm her findings. “Are we fucked?” 

“Well, “ The feline conceded, “It’s not ideal,” He tucked the book into his bag and looked north down the cavernous hallway. “But we will continue.”

Grim eyed the Katari skeptically.

“We’ll take the long way around.” The feline smiled.

Twenty minutes north the decently torchlit cavern widened to about ten feet as the walls changed from hollowed rock to hewn stone. The Katari noticed curious pockmarks in the stones along the walls. The curious cub moved to take a closer look and heard a subtle click and puff of air a fraction of a second before the dart exited the hole. Nimble Grim tried to grab the dwarf by the collar to pull her out of the projectile’s path but the dart sunk deep into her in the shoulder.

“Fuck!” the petite woman shouted. She tended her wound while Grim and the Katari looked for a route through the trap. Grim suggested trying to disarm the triggers in the floor tiles but the feline felt they should leave the device armed to slow any who may follow. They argued briefly before the mercenary conceded. Over the course of the next hour the Katari mapped a path forward by identifying the floor tiles with the most wear on them and Grim tested the steps with the butt of his longbow to ensure they were safe. 

Some time later, and much further down the corridor they found a poorly lit passage leading off to their left and a set of stairs leading down to the right. The Katari, who’d been plotting thier course in his notebook stopped to verify their position. He was eager to put some distance between his team and those above, concerned that the Urn hunting guard he’d sent on a fools errand would come looking for them, once he realized he’d been lied to. There was also the other guard to consider, the one he’d poisoned with blue goop. He’d run off in this direction and, while that guard had seemed quite delirious at the time, the feline was unsure how long the effects would last.

Grim was drawn to the left hand passage by the sound of giggling. He crept quietly down the passage with his sword drawn until he came to a four-way intersection. He listened again and the giggling voice pulled him to the left again. 

With his bering confirmed, the Katari tucked the book back into his bag and made for the stairs on his right when he realized the Elf was missing. “Where the fuck did he go?” Gulkor led them after the Mercenary, following him down a different set of stairs.  

The passage turned sharply to the left once again before descending again, into a hexagonal room lush with moss and fungi growing up the walls and across the ceiling. No longer trying to be quiet, Grim rushed across the room. He lunged toward a dwarven guard giggling hysterically in the opposite corner, when something pounced at him from the dark. The elven mercenary skipped to the side, deftly dodging the sudden snap. 

The Katari, frustrated at being pulled off task, and anxious to get back to it, drew his weapon and before the elf could retaliate against the creature there was an ear-shattering kaboom as a hole ripped through the beast. The Thorny wailed and reared up. The dwarf crouching near a door on the southern wall screamed, covering his ears against the sound.  

Startled by the noise, Gulkor dropped but Grim thrust forward, swinging at the exposed and wounded beast with his rapier. The thorns on its underbelly deflected much of the blow, and he quickly pivoted around the plant beast and slashed it across the haunches, the scimitar in his offhand sliding between the quills to cut deep into the meat. The beast wailed again and turned to flee, narrowly escaping another slash of the mercenary’s blades.

The creature bolted toward the door on the southwest wall and the guard crouched next to it, screaming hysterically. The Guard thrust out with his spear, stabbing the thing in the chest. With a yelp  the beast tumbled across the floor, but instead of slamming against the door, it passed easily through, leaving waves of magical energy rippling across the wooden surface.

“Grim wait!” Katari shouted after the mercenary, but the elf was already rushing toward the door. Gulkor moved to intercept him, throwing her sturdy self, shield first at his lean torso. The giddy guard giggling in the corner swung at the two with his spear and though the swing was too low to be effective, Grim stumbled over the spear, and both he and Gulkor tumbled through the door.

“Oh, for the love of …” The Katari cussed under his breath. He approached the hysterical herald waving his weapon aimlessly about and levelled the barrel of his revolver at the dwarf’s face. Through the sights at the end of his barrel, the maniacal man’s vapid eyes danced wildly about the room, taking in sights beyond the feline’s perception. The Katari holstered his weapon, gently took the spear from the dwarf’s hands and tossed it over his shoulder. The guard giggled uncontrollably while the feline crouched just out of reach, then the Katari bared his claws and teeth with a sharp hiss. The guard screamed and scrambled off into the darkness. The Katari rose and ran his hand across the surface of the illusory door and felt not wood but something closer to tepid water. It left this hand with a tingling sensation akin to the taste of copper, and the more he tried to reconcile the sensation, the more his skin crawled. 

With a sigh, the Katari stepped through the magical door.



The Katari stepped into a simple unlit room of masoned stonework. It was barely two dozen feet across and extended off to either side beyond his night-vision. The air was filled with the musk of stale oil and fresh blood, and rang with the sounds of metal on metal and the lament of those in anguish. 

To his right a dwarven guard they’d not seen before convulsed. He was suspended on a spear jutting up from the floor. that entered through the inside of his thigh and exited at the collarbone. It continued up the inside of his buckled chinstrap into his helmet. One of the spear’s barbs had cut through the side of the helmet and, as the Katari watched the spear attempted to retract into the floor. The barb caught on the helmet and pulled the man down. Unfortunately the hilt of the guard’s weapon wedged between the floor and his armour prevented him from moving more than a few inches. The dwarven guard made a pained gurgle as the spear shuddered, unable to retract, then extended sharply, standing the guard up again, only to repeat the cycle a moment later. A twinge of anxious discomfort crawled up his feline spine as he imagined the depths of pain the man must be in. 

Before the Katari, the thorned beast lay unmoving, its hind leg cocked at an unnatural angle. Like the guard, the creature's weight on the armed stone tile continued to trigger the spears that punched up through the beast to their full 5 foot length, then retracted slowly, only to repeat the process again. The barbs chewed through the beast, quickly pulverising its back end. A puddle of green mucous pooled about the beast, slowly seeping into untriggered spear holes in the floor. 

To his left Gulkor screamed as the mercenary pulled her to the edge of the room and leaned her back against the wall.  Grim cut a swath of linen from his tunic, folded it several times and pressed it against her calf. He held it firmly as he pulled the narrow belt holding his scabbard from his waist to use as a tourniquet, pulling it tight around her calf as she screamed.

With a sigh, the Katari approached the gurgling guard and kicked the hilt of his hammer. With the obstruction out of the way the spear retracted and the man crumpled to the ground with a quiet whimper. Careful to avoid the various sets of pockmarks in the floor, the agile sphinx worked his way about the outside of the room to the mangled monster. Drawing his rapier, the feline jabbed the tip under the corner of a floor tile, wiggled it some, and with a twits he felt the tile release and the spears stopped, jutting two feet out of the floor. 

His colleagues rested against the far wall between two of the four doors mounted there. The elven mercenary tended to a small wound on his forearm while the Dwarven blacksmith used spell casting to close the jagged hole punched through her leg. The Katari chuckled snidely, “Well, what do you say we stick to the plan, moving forward.” 


The Katari gently pulled the narrow metal rake toward him until it caught on the final tumbler. With a very  delicate click the lock released and the sturdy iron door swung open to a cavernous unlit passage. 

Before they continued the feline stopped to eye the eleven mercenary, “This …” He waved his hand lazily toward the room, “can’t happen again.”

As the other two rested the feline spent some time flipping through his notebook identifying their location and plotting a new route. The Katari, anxious to get moving, lead them through several miles of winding caverns and catacombs, stopping regularly to verify their bearing and location,  until they reached several old sawhorses blocking their path. 

“How do we get across?” The limping Dwarf asked, spying something move in the dark passage beyond.

The feline flipped back and forth between two pages of his notebook before he responded, staring into the dark hole, “We … don’t.” 

“Really?!?” The Dwarf questioned. She picked a small stone off the ground, brushed the dirt off it with her pant legs and scratched a small symbol on its surface with a small tool from her belt. The stone began to glow filling the cavern with blue light. She stepped around the sawhorse, looked down into the darkness and dropped it down the hole. Despite it’s glow the stone soon disappeared into the darkness. The Katari’s keen hearing caught the sharp crack of the stone striking the ground far beneath them.

“A hundred feet,” He declared. The Elf shot him a cocked eyebrow, “Give or take.” They both looked at the Dwarven woman with concern.

“What?” Gulkor asked, suspiciously eyeing the other two.

“Give or take ten feet.” The Elf responded, eyeing the feline as if he were evaluating the grinning Grimalkin’s trustworthiness while they developed a decent strategy. The mercenary connected two lengths of rope while Gulkor drove a piton deep into a crack in the cavern wall and they used the combination to lower the petite woman with all of their gear. 

Halfway down she let out a scream and the rope began to shake violently. “You good?” The Katari called down into the opening. A series of cuss words echoed up the cavern.

“Unn, y-yeah, “ She called back, “Fucking …” A squeal shot up through the cavity, “Fucking spiderwebs!”

When she had reached the end of her rope the mercenary called down after her, “That’s it!”



“Are you fucking kidding me?!?” Her voice echoed up the hollow chasm. Gulkor had grown up in the Undercity and her vision in the darkness was quite good but even she could not make out any light from her companions above. She could, however, see the glowing stone some distance below her. ”Ten feet my ass!” The distance, from above, looked to be easily twice that height but she took a deep breath and leaned back nervously, hoping the makeshift harness the elf had tied wouldn’t just untie and drop her like a stone. Though uncomfortable it held firm and she was able to release the bundle of packs hanging beneath her. The bags dropped to the floor with a muffled thump. A moment later, and with a deep, nervous breath, she dropped onto them. 

She scrambled from the crash-pad of bound backpacks, weapon drawn and looked about the faintly blue-hued room for any potential adversaries. Instead, she found herself in an empty square room roughly forty feet across. There were two wooden doors in the southern wall, one of which had been smashed open and now hung from a single hinge. The east wall, which she’d dismounted closest to, was carved into a relief from the floor to the ceiling. She reached out to run her hand along the surface when out of the corner of her eye she spotted the tail end of the rope being pulled up out of sight and remembered her task. 

Sword in hand she approached the busted door, shield up and weapon in hand. Once she’d confirmed she was alone she returned to the muraled wall. She ran her palm across the polished surface, wiping a decades-deep swath through a century’s worth of dust. Still, dim blue light reflected off the polished marble beneath. She found a small blue flame tucked into a carving of a lantern, with a tiny metal dial. It clicked beneath her finger and she heard a faint hiss followed swiftly by the sound of oil igniting.  

A moment later a lantern several feet up the wall burst to life, casting sharp, haunting shadows across the intricate carving. Moments later a similar lantern ignited on the north wall, followed soon after by a third on the west wall, bathing the room in golden light that shimmered in muted pinks and blues across the mother-of-pearl ceiling tiles. As the room came to life she heard the muffled thump of the Mercenary dropping into the room but she barely noticed him check the room for threats.

She had to walk herself to the back of the room to take in the full scope of the room-spanning relief. Even then it took several minutes before she realised that the ceiling tiles were also part of the image. The mural depicted scenes of the ancient city of Khazaram, showcasing significant events that shaped both the Under and Over cities. Her breath hitched in her throat as she considered the size and scope of the relief and the amount of work required to complete it. 

Though she was a metalworker, the skill, craftsmanship, and artistry on display had her awe-struck. She ran her fingers along the relief, admiring the intricate details, the mastery of stone carving techniques, and the overall grandeur of the work. It was a testament to the talents of the dwarven artisans of old and a beautiful reminder of the rich cultural heritage and artistic legacy that had been passed down through generations of her people. She was quickly overtaken by a strong curiosity and fascination with the stories depicted in the mural. Each scene was a window into the past, offering glimpses of forgotten legends, cultural traditions, and historical narratives.

“Mais Deux!” The breathy whisper of the elven mercenary startled her, but only briefly. Without hesitation she began to decipher the ancient dwarven text interwoven through each image, pulling together the stories and events that shaped her underground world. So deep was her focus that she barely noticed when the catty Katari joined them. 

It wasn’t until a flash of white light burst from a doorway at the end of the room that she looked away from the carvings.

“Ques-que fuck?!?” The elf bolted toward the open doorway at the end of the room with his weapon drawn. The dwarven woman cussed under her breath and casually followed him through the broken door frame into the storage closet. 

“You tell me!” The Katari, who seemed unphased by whatever had caused the flash, casually tossed something to the elf. The light coming through the entry behind her refracted in the surface of the polished rock as it arced through the air.

“Oooh, Moss Agate?!?” She replied, reaching out to pluck the object from the air. “That shit’s super …” Despite hopping up to reach it, her petite fingers clipped the edge of the stone, slapping it across the room where it shattered against the brick wall. “ … rare.” She looked at the Katari sheepishly shocked before silently apologising. 

“Check this out,” She said excitedly leading them back into the room with the carvings lining the walls.

Approaching the western relief and running her fingertips gently across the text engraved into the embossed image, “This is an ancient dialect of dwarvish!”

“That would make sense, “ The feline responded, pulling from the familiar tourism pamphlets, “Mount Khazaram is the birthplace of dwarves.” 

“Allegedly.” She pointed to the carved features as she read, “This talks about a star that fell from the heavens, “ She continued to the second panel, “It crashed into an ocean realm with so much force that the sea floor rose around it, creating an island.” She moved to the third panel, “Something was … “ She paused, confused by the text, “Either inside the star or maybe created by it, I'm not sure, but it remained cocooned under the island for a thousand years.”

“So, dwarves came from a star cocoon?!?” Grim questioned sarcastically.

“No, that’s ridiculous, “ She said dismissively as she moved to the relief on the opposite wall. “A thousand years later a magician’s apprentice from … somewhere, accidentally ...”

“Somewhere?!” “ The Katari interrupted. 

“It says the realm he came from … was … forgotten, maybe?!?” She shrugged, “Anyway, he opened a portal to the island and got trapped here.” She moved to the next panel and continued, “He named it Khazaram and spent years living on the island, always looking for a way home. Then …” She moved to the last panel, “One day he found a cave, or … it appeared,” she shrugged again, “He explored the cave for years before …”   She  stopped as if rereading it to be sure what she saw, “eventually he found …” she paused, cocking her head as if trying to understand, “...  it …”

“It?!?” Grim sounded concerned. Ignoring the Elf she moved to the relief on the north wall, 

“Yeah, some kind of coral, or Choral,  or Xhorro maybe?” She shrugged, having never heard any semblance of the word. “Whatever it was, He spent decades mining it and using it to sculpt the Under City!” She trailed off for a moment, before her eyes lit up, “Yo! I think this was Thesaro!”

“The Grand Mage?!?” Grim questioned, the dwarf nodded, without looking away from the carving. “So this coral is what, a source of magic?”

“The Ancient Treasure of Khazaram.” The Katari whispered under his breath.



The Katari climbed down the wall using the rope as a safety harness. Despite his natural feline ability, the climb down was slow and treacherous as many of the ledges and edges had to be cleared of moss and dirt before they were safe to use. When he was nearly at the bottom the feline found a metal bracket mounted on the cavern wall and quickly realised there had been a ladder available to them. He used it to descend the last twenty feet and when he’d stepped off the last rung onto the dirt floor of the lower cavern, he eyed his companions suspiciously. “Neither of you saw that?”

His companions, who had not responded, had lit torches mounted in the walls and were examining a series of murals carved in relief that continued about the room.  The feline, eyeing the darkness beyond the broken door, drew his firearm, “you guys cleared the room, yeah?”

“Looks like a storage closet,” Gulkor, barely looking away from the carving on the west wall, replied haphazardly. Grim, who was running his fingers across the surface of the eastern relief did not acknowledge him at all.

Leading with his revolver, the feline stepped over the rubble in the doorway and entered the darkened room. He immediately understood the dwarf’s response. The long, narrow room was mostly empty save the debris littered about the floor, and a small stone table near the back of the room. Little more than a slab of stone weathered by age. A thin dust blanketed its surface, undisturbed save for the occasional footprint of passing rodents. Once, offerings of flowers and herbs might have adorned its surface, but now it sits empty and forgotten, save a lone candle. 

The feline holstered his weapon and lit the candle to look about the room. Soft warm light filled the room, brightening until the Katari had to shut his eyes against it. A warmth rushed through him, as though it warmed him to his bones, and then it was gone. 

“What, the fuck, was that?” He heard the Elf call from the other room. The Katari tried to blink the hot spots from his vision, finding his companions in the doorway. 

He pointed to the candle on the little altar but kept his attention on the shapes burned into his vision. Surrounding the altar were scattered remnants of offerings long decayed: shards of pottery, faded ribbons, and wilted flowers, all ravaged by time. He blinked repeatedly trying to line up the fading image with the room, kicking his way through the debris to find two glinting artifacts in the dimly lit room. An iron key with a skull embossed on its handle, which he pocketed discretely, and a green-hued stone veined with delicate patterns reminiscent of forest foliage. Tiny flecks of moss seem to grow within its depths, lending it an aura of vitality and growth. It hummed in his palm leaving him with a sense of the tranquil harmony of nature.

“Sais quoi, la?” The elven mercenary questioned, eyeing the shining stone. 

“You tell me!” The Katari casually tossed the rock to him. 

“Moss Agate?!?” The dwarf casually exclaimed, trying to snatch the stone from the air  “That’s shit” She swatted the stone out of the air, sending it across the room where it shattered against the brick wall. “Check this out,” She said excitedly approaching the western relief and running her fingertips gently across the  text engraved into the embossed image, “This is ancient dwarvish!”

“Allegedly.” The feline responded.

She ran her fingers along the carved features as she read, “This talks about an object that fell from the heavens, crashed into the ocean with such force that a mountain rose around it.” The petite woman’s eyes shimmered with an energy the Katari had not seen in her before.  “It remained cocooned under the mountain for a thousand years.”

“Then a Dwarf arrived by portal from … somewhere.”

“Wait! dwarves followed a star here?” Grim questioned sarcastically.

“Where?” The Katari interrupted. 

“Somewhere … forgotten, maybe?!?” She shrugged, “Anyway, he opened a portal to the island.” She moved to the next panel and continued, “He explored the mountain for years until he found it.” \

“It?!” Grim sounded concerned.

“He calls it … coral … er, Xhorro?” She shrugged. The feline’s ears perked up. He had come across this word many times in his journal transcriptions and it’s presence here reaffirmed his conviction that the treasure was here, somewhere. “He spent decades mining it and using it to sculpt the Under City!” She trailed off for a moment, before her eyes lit up, “Hey! I think this was the Grand Mage Thesaro!”

“So this Yarrow is what, a source of magic?” Grim questioned.

“The Ancient Treasure of Khazaram.” The Katari whispered under his breath.

The weight of the Katari’s revelation collapsed around them like the mountain had caved in, burying them under the rubble of their assumptions. They remained in the torchlit room for a while, silently looking at one another for answers. 

Eventually Grim broke the silence, eyeing the Katari suspiciously, “Did you know?”

“Excuse me?” The feline responded dismissively. He chose to ignore the accusatory tone in the mercenaries voice. 

Sensing an incoming confrontation,or perhaps to look for more context, Gulkor moved quietly back to the north wall and began reviewing the carvings again.

“You said we were after gold ore and uncut gems.” The mercenary responded pointedly.

“No, I said Ancient treasure,” The feline rebutted. He opened his journal, both to compare this new information to his notes and actively instigate the hired help. The Katari enjoyed instigating bullies, as he considered most soldiers to be.  “Though I will admit to being intentionally vague.”

“You intentionally mislead The Oath?” Grim drew his rapier in challenge. The Midnight Oath had a reputation for ensuring strict adherence to their contracts. Breaking a deal with The Oath was largely considered a death sentence.

“I merely allowed the space for you to develop your own motivations,” The Katari snickered, without looking up. “I’d hardly call that misleading.

Grim levelled his sword at the hairless cat-man. The feline faced his accuser and calmly tucked the notebook under his arm. He drew a flask from his cloak pocket, spinning the lid open with his thumb. “Regardless, the offer stands.” He took a long swig, tilting his head back and exposing his throat to the sabre glinting in the torchlight. When he was finished he held the flask out to his accuser, finally looking the elf in the eyes with a provocative smile. The Katari knew that, without him they would never find the treasure.

“Hey Whis …” Before the Dwarf could finish the word the feline drew his revolver, cocked the arming lever at his thumb and levelled it at the little woman. “... key!” She finished, spotting the flask in his outstretched hand, “I think this is a door.” His ears perked up as she ran her hands across the raised edge of the carved cocoon. 

“Your name is Whiskey?!?” The mercenary questioned, lowering his weapon. 

“It is now.” He responded, holstering his weapon with a conniving smile. His focus was now firmly trained on the dwarf, but he allowed the mercenary to take the beverage as he walked past.

“Look, “ Gulkor, who was much shorter, placed a hand absently on the feline’s belt and pushed him a few feet back, waving her other hand in the direction of the north mural. At its centre, the carving depicted a young dwarf standing before a giant crystal egg. His left hand was raised, as if caressing the object. All about this image was a collage depicting the dwarf carving out different sections under the mountain. The stories were separated by some text or a carved border. She pointed to a Silhouette of the Dwarf in the bottom left of the wall depicting Thesaro using a gilded pick to chip at a chunk of crystal egg set into a support pillar in the Undercity. She began to read, “... I entertained the Xharro for a thousand years. I was given great gifts and many blessings for my work …“ She continued to point about the relief, identifying six more representations of the dwarf chipping at a crystal. The feline noticed that one, in particular, resembled a large gem he’d seen in the library while he’d been researching some of the transcriptions in his notebook but he dismissed the coincidence when she pressed one of the crystals. 

A distinct click from just behind the relief caused the Katari’s ears to perk up. Gulkor smiled and moved to the next crystal. Click. The Katari’s smirk grew to a smile as she pressed the next two and waited, watching him excitedly. When nothing happened both their smiles dropped a little before she spoke up, sheepishly, “I … can’t reach the …”

“Right!” He declared, cursing himself for the oversight. He pressed the crystal on the library-shaped carving and felt the lever behind it tense and release with a Click. The crystal popped back into position and he moved to the last. Click. There was a moment of quiet where he thought he might have heard a faint winding noise below them followed quickly by steel drawn across a whetstone. Both jumped away from the mural as a bank of large spinning saw blades thrust up through the spaces in the floor tiles. Mounted on curved arms, the blades followed them as they stumbled back. One blade caught the outside of the Katari’s boot and chewed through his pant leg, grazing his shin, while another caught the Dwarf by the sleeve trying to get to get to her arm. 

“Jeebez Cripes!” Gulkor shouted, grabbing for the laceration. She looked at her feline companion, somewhat taken aback. 

“Guess that was the wrong combination?” He questioned when they were back on their feet, a hint of sarcasm in his tone. The dwarven woman began slapping her companion incessantly, “You Mother-Fucker! You almost got me KILLED!” The Katari turned away with a shoulder raised to her to protect his face but allowed her to get her frustration for another moment. “Gods Dammed Fucking Fucker!” 

“I did say it would be dangerous.” He smirked, moving out of her reach as she swing for him one last time. As the spinning blades slowed they also retracted back into the floor. A moment later they were followed by a series of metallic clacking noises that moved up the centre of the wall, as though something were being released. With a loud crunch and a small cloud of dust, the embossed egg punched forward a few centimetres. There was another faint winding behind the egg and the Katari cautiously pulled the dwarf back from the wall as a crack formed in it’s center. The sound of stone against stone resembled a loud crack as the two halves of the egg were pulled apart from the bottom and a cloud of stale, salty air wafted into the room. 

“I stand corrected,” The feline smiled, peering into the darkness beyond. He placed a hand on the little woman’s back and rubbed it affectionately, “Well done!”  He looked at her proudly, “Shall we?”

“Yeah, “ She responded absently, trying to see into the dark opening. “Hey, Braiden!“ Gulkor called out for their third, looking back to an empty room.

“Braiden?!?” The Katari questioned, raising a whiskered eyebrow. He reached for his flask and found only an empty pocket.

“That’s his name!” Gulkor snarled back. She knew the narcissistic neko not to be the jealous type but had, rather incorrectly, assumed he would at least bother to learn the man’s name. 

“I thought it was Merc?” He looked off, feigning thoughtfulness.

“Merc Grim?!”

“Merc Grim-ary?!?” The Katari grinned like a proud father reciting an awful pun.

“Jebez Cripes!” With a roll of her eyes she beseeched the Trickster God, by name, to claim his idiot child. She stepped away from the mural looking for the elf. “Where the fuck is he?!”


“Whiskey?!?” Grim looked down the length of his blade, the polished steel reflected in the chat nu’s glittering green eyes. He was relieved their piercing stare was no longer trained on him, more so the knowing smirk that always followed. The Katari was devastatingly handsome and had a gift for pushing all of the wrong buttons in all of the right ways. 

Grim had been tasked with investigating the Katari and his alleged treasure hunt by la Gestionnaire. He had spent a week following le chat matou through the Undercity learning his many aliases and establishing the charlatan’s trustworthiness and found it lacking. He’d watched le marchand des maux pick a young woman’s pocket as she entered a tavern, then her bill came due he swept in to “rescue” her. He swept her off her feet with rich food and a bottomless cup that she had paid for. On a cloud of breathy nonsense, he whisked her off to bed; all to copy a single key he could have just as easily stolen. C’est une parade de pagaille the elven man had no interest in marching.

Despite that relief, he was still somehow resentful as the Katari walked away. Who was this depraved domestic to dismiss a Guardian of The Oath like a common servant? 

With a breath of resignation held close to his chest, the OathKeeper took the flask and allowed the feline to escape his blade another day. He would honour the terms of the contract and the conditions of his Oath. The Ancient Treasure of Khazaram would be recovered for The Oath, and the charlatan would be buried in a shallow grave.

The Elf busied himself as he muttered, kicking his way through the debris collected in the room's south end. Beneath a mass of tangled netting the corner, he found a mace that he swung about to get a feel for its weight, reach and craftsmanship. He approached the second southern door. Though the wood was dry and aged, the door was sturdy and swung in its frame with little resistance. It opened to a cavern passage at the end of which he could make out another intersection. He looked back at his companions enthusiastically discussing the far mural and decided to put some distance between himself and the Katari for a few minutes. There was a faint squeak as his fingertips released the door, a subtle rush of air as it closed behind him, and an audible clunk as the ground dropped out from under him.

The Oathkeeper’s heart stopped as the stone beneath his feet cracked in the center and folded away. Instinctively his arms shot out for balance and his grip tightened on the weapon in his hand. His heart contracted in that briefest moment of weightlessness, drawing the confusion of the moment and the fear of what came next into his core. As he dropped into the narrow pit his heart released like a broken dam, flooding him with adrenaline. Like fuel to fire, the finely tuned fighter exploded into action, bracing himself against the narrow walls to slow his descent. While effective, the mace in his hand caught on the stone wall of the pit and he tumbled the last few feet to the floor. 

His fall was broken by the brittle remains of at least two previous occupants, whom he rudely pushed aside to lean back against the stone hollow and inspect his wounds. Though, he was thankful for their support. His cuts and bruises seemed minor once he saw the rusted remains of several stranded swords scattered among them. He collected the flask, took a swig, splashed a little on his largest cuts, and took a last swig before tucking it into his pocket.

The mercenary was no stranger to darkness. He had been trained to fight blindfolded, had stalked countless prey through moonless nights, and had even followed a mountain goat up a cliff face in Ash Canyon but even his keen Elven eyesight struggled with the utter darkness of this pit. Looking up some fourteen feet to the lid of his enclosure he could make out some mechanism holding it shut, but he would need to get closer to see how it opened. 

He began searching the near-circular wall for suitable handholds and quickly discovered old scratch marks at every crack and outcropping. He looked briefly at his elderly companions, now haphazardly kicked to the corner with a cache of corroding cutlasses at their backs and returned to his task with renewed determination. He started by feeling for reliable holds, most barely the width of his slender elven fingers, and scraping the dirt and Grime from them with his dagger, both to clean them up and to see them better. He tried a few combinations together, gaining more height with each attempt and marked the most successful combinations with the tip of his dagger. (Finger holds)

After a several slips and missteps Braiden was able to get himself perched high enough up the narrow well that he could examine the mechanism that kept the lid closed. The trap door appeared to be made of stone slabs on hinges that were held in place by flay iron rods. He gingerly tested the iron support closest to him, but the spring-loaded device was surprisingly sensitive. It suddenly snapped back into the wall with a dull ring, and the slate slab's centre dropped in a swift arc toward his face. The mercenary reared away from the swinging stone, losing his already precarious grip and tumbling roughly to the bottom of the pit once again. 

"Calisse!" The elf muttered under his breath as he pulled himself back against the wall again to catch his breath. The muscles in his forearms were tense and swollen and his calves trembled from holding himself up by his toes on narrow nooks and notches. He flexed his hands, stretching the fingers wide, then closing them to a soft fist a few times, as the maître d'armes had taught him during his fight training. He pulled out the flask, stretching his calves, and took a long swing, looking up at the cracks in the wall for some better hold and regretted leaving his pack full of climbing gear in the room above. 

He extended his legs out to stretch his calves and splashed some whiskey on a fresh abrasion on his shin. He was careful to leave un petit peu dans le flacon for when he returned it to the mysterious Katari but noticed as he screwed the cap back on that the container got heavier in his hand. When the lid was secure he gave the container a little shake. It sloshed heavily, as though it were once again full. “Ques que fuck?!” He exclaimed, sitting up, but as he pulled his feet in, his pant leg caught on the tip of a rusted sword and dragged a small pile of blades and bone toward him. The tip of an old dagger caught in a crack on the floor, standing almost upright and his eyes shot up the cavern wall with an idea. 

He picked a shortsword up and inspected the blunt tip, jagged with rust. He found a crack in the wall about waist height and jammed the sword into it. The tip dug in just enough to hold, but it wiggled and he would have to stand on the narrow back edge. He picked up a cutlass, found a higher crack and tried again. The tip drove deep, leaving half of the blade exposed as a narrow, flat step. He gathered two of the smallest swords, hooked them onto his belt and began to climb onto his sword steps. The shortsword was stable so long as his weight remained on it, but the narrow edge across the centre of his foot was painful to stand on for long and any time he lifted his weight from the blade edge it would threaten to fall out. The cutlass was firmly in place but the blade bounced beneath his foot. As he drew an old dagger for the next crack he dropped the sword he was planning to use at the top to shunt the door. Regardless he wriggled the dagger into a place. He removed his weight from the shifty shortsword and it, expectedly, slipped from its socket and fell to the floor. Still, he bounced off the cutlass and moved his weight swiftly to the last step. 

He slowly straightened up, one foot firmly on the handle of a dagger, the other hovering tentatively above it, the fingers of one hand tucked tightly into a narrow crack, The fingers of the other gently crawling up the adjacent wall, helping him to maintain his balance. When the trap mechanism was within reach, he slowly took his hand away from the adjacent wall, using his free foot to counterbalance, and drew his sabre. He stood on his toes to get the sabre flat enough against the ceiling and the sweat on his fingers made the hold slippery. With a smooth motion, he slid the blade between the iron support and the stone slab. The support suddenly snapped back but, as the elf had hoped, the sabre’s wide blade prevented the support from retracting fully, though it pulled him from his precarious perch and left him dangling in the air by the trapped sabre. The slate slab swung down, slamming into the iron support and stopping just shy of crushing his arms. He braced his foot against the wall and used the trapped sword to help him reach around the slab and used the gap between its hinges to pull himself out of the hole. 

He took out the Katari’s flask again and took a long swig as the trap reset. He listened regretfully as the sabre clattered to the bottom of the pit. Still, it seemed a small price to pay to keep himself from starving to death in a dank hole. As the flask refilled itself in his hand, he considered keeping it as a consolation and sending le chat to retrieve his sword. "Hostie d'marde!" He cussed the pit as he left, happy to put it behind him and was reaching for the door when it opened onto his hand. “Cave!”

“More of a crypt, I think.” The Katari smirked. 

The Katari, leading with a torch, stepped through the hole in the wall into a narrow unlit room. The torch glow warmed the hewn stone walls with yellow light, showing the room was barren, save for a single chest at the far end, which the floor seemed to slope slightly toward.  

“Is that..?” Gulkor questioned. She moved for the chest but, within a few paces a stone shifted beneath her feet. She froze, throwing her arms out to the side to stop the others from proceeding. “Shit!”

“What?” The mercenary questioned, reaching for his sabre but finding an empty scabbard. 

The Dwarf lifted her foot to see the stone beneath it cocked to the side in its mortar. The three stood in silence, listening to the distant sounds of trickling water and tumbling dirt beneath them. A moment later the stone shifted slightly before it dropped quietly into a dark cavern beneath them. There were a few seconds of quiet before they heard the crack of the floor stone explode on the ground far below.

“Well,” The Katari exclaimed sarcastically, “Let’s not go that way!” He moved closer to the wall where the floor felt more secure and took out his notebook, flipping back and forth between several marked and dogeared pages with a furrowed brow. 

“Looks, to me, like this is what we came for.” The elven mercenary declared, pointing out that there were no other exits from this room. The mercenary pushed forward, with Gulkor close behind. Staying close to the wall, they worked their way around the east side of the room toward their treasure. The light footed elf was the first to approach and investigate.

The craftsmanship on the chest was extraordinary, despite its apparent age. It was adorned with an intricate wooden inlay and polished brass fittings, but he found no latch or keyhole. Neither did he find a single seam or opening in the chest, whatsoever. He did, however, find a single brass plug in the top of the chest that he was able to press down with a click. As he pulled his finger away seams in the shape of flower petals appeared in the wood, presenting in a clockwise rotation about the hole left by the brass button. The petals rose a few millimetres, angling slightly and began to spin up, drawing air into the chest.

“Hey, I think I got it.” He replied, grinning at the dwarven woman to his left.

“Don’t touch it!” The words escaped the Katari’s lips too late. 

Grim watched as two small wooden panels popped open on either side of the chest’s face, revealing a small brass nozzle under one, and a pair of thick copper wires bent to resemble the pincers on an earwig under the second. The nozzle began spouting a silvery gas into the room, filling the air with tiny metallic dust that simmered in the torchlight and left a coppery scent.

Grim pulled away, covering his mouth with the back of his forearm and moving behind the wooden crate as the gas quickly billowed into the room. Within seconds the gas trailed off and there was a brief silence before a sharp crackle and a flash of filled the room. Grim, who was closest, watched as electricity arced between the tips of the copper wires, igniting something in the gas. Lightening reached out through the air, like the roots of a tree, using each glittering spec of dust in the cloud to get to the next. 

The electricity clawed swiftly and irregularly through the cloud of silver gas toward the Katari who recoiled despite being outside its reach. A separate arm of thin blue light reached out jaggedly toward Gulkor, who was closer. She had reacted to the initial spark and was crouching near the east wall, behind her small shield. The electricity grabbed the shield, slamming the dwarf against the wall and grounding itself through the floor.

The dwarven woman picked herself off the floor, furious. Her face knotted into a snarl, she drew her sword and charged at the chest, roaring like a beast. Leading with her shield she slammed into the chest like a charging unicorn. The chest, however, was firmly secured to the floor and the entire room shuddered from the impact. The hard wooden side of the chest cracked, caving inward along the grain before bouncing the dwarf off the immovable box. She spun uncontrollably before tumbling to the stone floor, but her shield tore a cracked board from the device to reveal a mass of spinning gears and oscillating springs inside. The impact loosened several of the floor stones and the dwarf, rolling onto her stomach, watched as a few of the stones closest to her head dropped one by one from the floor into the darkness below. 

The chest responded, sliding open a panel and producing a brass ring with a pilot light that immediately began spewing six jets of flames in a wide circle about itself. The dwarf’s shield took most of the blast, but the rapidly heating metal seared her forearm as she moved to avoid the growing hole in the floor.

The mercenary threw his arm up to protect his face, the flames scorching his hand and forearm. He ducked between the jets, holding the found mace firmly, and targeted the springs and gears that had been exposed. Even with his arm blocking his vision, the mace overshot its mark, instead striking the front corner support. The room shuddered again, causing the floor stones to begin dropping at an accelerated rate. The brass support bent, sending gears and bits of metal flying and busting the boards from the chest’s face. The flame jets stopped with a decelerating whirr, allowing the elf to get himself out from behind the device but he quickly found few places to retreat to as the floor along the east wall fell away before him. 

The feline, still at the back of the room, had found the image he’d been looking for on a slip of folded paper tucked tightly between the pages of his notebook. He tucked the book under his arm, oriented the diagram in his hand, held it up next to the flame-spewing chest and drew his revolver. He took a last glance at the diagram in his hand, then levelled the barrel of the firearm at a bank of canisters visible through the broken face of the chest and squeezed his ignition switch. 

The button receded, releasing the spring-loaded firing hammer, which lurched forward, striking the flint in the back of the chamber, the flint shifted inside its casing, grinding off tiny sparks that ignited the powder inside the chamber. The compressed powder combusted forcing the steel bearing blocking its exit out the end of the eight-inch barrel with a concussive BOOM! 

A fraction of a second later the led pellet punched through the side of the first of three gas canisters it tumbled in the rapidly expelling gas before ripping sideways out the opposite side and directly into the second canister. A spark, from the side of one steel canister colliding at high speed with another ignited the mixing gases. The resulting explosion ripped the device into pieces. Splinters of oak and shards of brass sailed outward on a concussive wave, ricocheting off the hewn stone walls to consume every bit of air in the room.

The Katari watched as Gulkor, the closest to the device, was picked up by the blast and thrown against the wall. The agile elven mercenary was also thrown at a wall, twisting in the air to swat away a long, pointed shard of wood accelerating toward him. As the wave of force and fire rolled toward him it pushed the loosely held-together floor stones down, out of their rotting mortar and into the air below as the floor fell away from him. He barely saw the brass cog that tore through his sleeve and opened his shoulder, but its impact caused him to recoil, falling to a floor that no longer existed.  


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