[Author’s note: Again, this is fiction for the Empire LARP campaign run by Profound Decisions. I don’t own the setting or the world, and am writing this as a player with no special knowledge of either]
Always, always cold.
Even when the sun bakes the cobbles of the streets foot-blisteringly warm and the air burns like furnace-heat, the waters of Caricomare keep the chill of corpse-flesh, stealing the breath from living lungs with the shock of immersion.
It’s a different world, down there – silent, dark, cold as the grave – and Nico slips his way through it like a ghost, a living, breathing shadow in a city owned and guarded by the eyeless, skinless dead.
Perhaps it is the worst of crimes, to rob the homes and pockets of the dead. Perhaps it is as unforgivable as the old priests would have them think. Perhaps it does damn your immortal soul.
But, Nico wonders, slipping a handful of broken golden links into the folds of the cloth tied around his waist, isn’t it a greater crime to let yourself die when food’s well within your reach? And, more than that, isn’t it a greater crime to let the only other person in the whole wide world you give two shits about die because some rich bastard’s morals won’t let you take what’s not being used?
And, if you want honest, I’ll give a fuck about our immortal souls when our mortal bodies aren’t so busy dying of starvation neither of us can even think straight.
Survive. Stay alive. You can’t play the game if you’re dead.
And the dead won’t go hungry if we steal their jewels.
Another handful of broken links – necklace? bracelet? – and a scattering of small shining jewels. Probably glass, if no-one before him thought them worth stealing, but they’ll trade well enough for what he needs.
Play by the rules, as long as you can. But stealing’s acceptable. If you have to. If you need to. If you’re smart enough to. Just don’t get caught.
Little enough chance of that here.
There’s nothing else here worth taking – other more professional grave-robbers plundered this particular place long ago, and he’s been lucky to scrape up as much as he did of their leavings – and, with his lungs burning and his toes and fingers already almost numb, he’s pushing the limits of how long it’s safe to stay down here.
And besides, if he’s gone much longer Lea will be starting to worry.
Time to go home.
He kicks, twists sideways, launches himself out of the window of the house and kicks hard, shooting for the surface and the hidden air-pocket he and his twin use to slip unseen into the sunken city.
Shooting for it- and suddenly, horribly, failing to find it.
He kicks again, harder, reaching upwards to a shifting surface which seems at the same time close enough to touch and impossibly far away – he can’t have been that deep, surely, but the air should be there, and it isn’t – and the fingertips on his right hand smash suddenly into something hard, unyielding, cold numbness burning away in a firestorm of agonising, crushing pain.
The scream rips out of him before he has a chance to try and hold it back, bursting from his throat in a rush of bubbles and blood and the water floods in and-
That’s not- This isn’t- This-
…This isn’t real.
This isn’t real!
He closes his eyes. Tries to ignore the panic in his chest, the water in his mouth and nose and throat and lungs, the cold swallowing every part of him. Opens his mouth.
Water. Mud. Blood.
His right eye won’t open – something (mud? blood?) sticking the lid closed. His right hand won’t close – any attempt to move three of the fingers sends shards of pain stabbing up his arm, turns his stomach sick (sicker?). Everything is dark, damp, stinking of blood and shit and vomit and battle.
But his left hand is on his crossbow. His dagger’s still by his side.
And out of the eye that still works, he can see the pale, mud-covered, bloodstained, red-scaled living face of the only other person who matters.
He doesn’t know how they’re still alive, both of them.
He doesn’t care.
They’re alive. The orcs didn’t kill them. The weather didn’t kill them. Their wounds haven’t killed them. And if they’re alive-
Survive. Stay alive. You can’t play the game if you’re dead. And-
“Don’t get caught,” he whispers, words coming ragged through chapped lips.
Lea grins, white and shaken, but determined. “Don’t get caught.”
Not by the dead in Caricomare. Not by the orcs in Holberg.
We are the Bavarsi. And we never get caught.