Stay away from the Deep my sweet,
That place where sinners go to die.
Yet even the dead don't sleep
In those depths,
Where the dark is like vengeance
And even the Judge cannot see,
Their crimes once committed.
His hands grope for hollow truths,
In the cracked recesses
Of empty tombs.
So don't go down to the Deep my sweet,
Stay far from barrow and crypt.
For the dead don't rest in the Deep,
Their memories stir awake,
As dust from an open coffin
And they hunger for what once was,
But their gift was long given.
My sweet, don't meet their gaze,
For their hunger is envy
And they will devour your soul.
Nothing for you in the Deep, my sweet,
Only the damned
That wander the dark,
Footfalls heavy in the dust
Of lingering memories.
The light of life is not welcome there,
In the darkest depths of the world.
The Judge is as blind as we
And only the dark is witness
When the dead walk.
Myrkul's Descent Book III
Scillara launched herself from cover, gliding quickly but silently across the wall; hands and feet moving expertly along crevices, ledges and cracks in the hewn stone. The flurry of movement was over as suddenly as it had begun as she came to a stop, her hands finding purchase on the ledge of a small window. She hung still for a moment, pressing herself against the rough basalt and ignoring the ache in her fingers.
Waiting for her breath to return, Scillara peered over her shoulder into the courtyard three storeys below. A lone torch burned on the western wall, casting eerie shadows across the flagstones and trimmed flower bushes. Nothing stirred.
Something was wrong.
She had scouted the estate the previous night and counted a dozen guards, which likely meant a garrison of at least thirty. Easy, by her standards, but so far she hadn't seen a single sentry or patrol. Even the lookout towers in the outer yards were empty.
From somewhere close by, a terrible scream echoed into the moonlit sky, lingering over Neverwinter's Park District like a curse.
Snarling, Scillara pulled herself up onto the window ledge, using her legs to grasp the stone and free her hands. She pulled a set of picks from her belt and quickly set to work on the lock, smiling as she disabled a tripwire running through the mechanism. With a click, the panes swung open and she stepped inside.
A few rays of moonlight broke through the clouds, spearing through the window behind Scillara to illuminate the room. Crouched, she began to make out the shape of a plush four-poster bed dominating the room, its occupants, if any, hidden by a thick curtain around its edge. Breath caught and held, Scillara reached out a hand and gently felt the covers. No movement. No lazy rise and fall in the sheets. Empty.
Breathing relief, Scillara stood. A glance around the rest of the room revealed a dressing table by the far wall and a wooden clothes chest by the bed. Probably a guest room, nothing of value. She began to walk over to the door but stopped, feeling wetness on her hand. Puzzled, she lifted it to the light. Blood. Her hand was covered in blood. She examined closer, looking for a telltale cut. Nothing - it wasn't hers.
The bed curtains twitched suddenly. A low groan and they moved again, stretching out on the side nearest the door. Something heavy slumped onto the floor and a long, agonising gasp drew across the room. Scillara watched as a figure slowly rose to stand, spectral in the gloom and hunched over to face the wall. It stood silent and still for a few moments, then began to shift around, its feet dragging languidly over the wooden floor.
Scillara backed away, even as the figure began to limp towards her, instinctively priming the crossbow attached to her left wrist. A few steps brought it shuffling into the moonlight and Scillara's mouth fell open at the sight. He was a man, or at least was once a man and the wrinkled skin of his face and bald pate were clear evidence to his age. His silk nightgown was soaked crimson with blood but Scillara barely noted this, transfixed as she was by the man's features. On one side of his face, the entirety of his cheek had been ripped away, exposing his stained yellow teeth and gums.
"What are you?" Scillara asked, aghast.
The creature's only reply was a breathless gasp, its disfigured mouth stretching wide. It lifted a hand towards Scillara and began shuffling faster towards her; now only a few paces away.
The crossbow bolt took the walking cadaver in the eye, snapping its head back and sending it sprawling backwards into the bed. Its limbs twitched a few times and then were still.
Scillara did not move, her arm still raised.
What was happening here?
From behind her, outside in the courtyard, a horrifying roar filled the night sky.
Cursing, Scillara carefully closed the window and hurried to the door, opening it to reveal a long corridor, modestly lit by ceiling hung lanterns. Several other doors were arranged intermittently along each side and a second passage stretched away out of sight from a T-junction half way along the left wall. Scillara studied her options for a moment, eyes fixed on a large square-paned window at the opposite end of the corridor. She needed to get out. Something bad was happening in this place, maybe the whole district – the city? This job was over, the Guild could stick it.
She set off, head low, her leather clad feet padding silently across the carpet. A shadow appeared suddenly into her path and another lumbering corpse staggered out of the side passage. The zombie's throat had been ripped out, yet somehow it still managed to walk, lurching awkwardly towards her, eyes wide with a vicious hunger. Scillara didn't stop, ducking low to avoid its reaching arms. Twirling around, she pulled a longknife from the scabbards on her calves and slashed hard into the creature's legs. The blades found the hamstring tendons above each knee, cutting through them like taut rope and sending the undead creature crashing down.
Not bothering to finish it off, she carried on, running now – no longer needing stealth. She reached the window and jumped, kicking hard. The wooden frame buckled, splitting open in a shower of splinters and glass. An alarm bell sounded somewhere in the house but Scillara wasn't interested. She leapt out onto a slope of clay tiles, then rolled down onto the flat roof of an outhouse. Coming to a crouch, she crept forward to the edge overlooking the garden and peered out into the gloom. No movement.
Confident the way was clear, Scillara stood, preparing to jump.
Something heavy impacted on the stone behind her. She turned slowly. The creature that stood leering down at her was truly horrifying; unlike anything she had ever seen. At least half again as tall as her and easily twice as wide, its vaguely humanoid bulk massed with huge knots of interlocking muscles. Bone speared through its scaly purple skin in places to form rows of cruel spines that glistened in the moonlight. Its smouldering red eyes peered down at her, its dread regard almost curious - as if it was studying a small insect it had not seen before. Scillara gasped as its mouth stretched open, revealing an appalling jaw-line and a long purple tongue that played hungrily across each fang.
Leaning closer, its face inches from her own, it spoke but a single word, its voice booming over her like a wave of darkness.
Scillara did not understand the language, but still the word filled her with dread. In truth, its translation was irrelevant. She knew what it meant; her death. The reign of the greatest thief Neverwinter had ever seen was over.
Jaw bunched, Scillara stared up at her demon-assailant, breathed deep, and attacked…