Kos ran through the tunnel as fast as he could. As fast as his hands and feet would allow up the rough rock incline. His quarry had a head start, but Kos was a Runner. He’d been this way a thousand times, and he knew the path well. He knew where he could be quick and where he needed to be cautious. The tunnel went on for a thousand paces like this, rough surface but over all a straight line, then a sharp left. He would stay to the right, that’s where the floor was the most even for the first five hundred paces. After that, either side was pretty much the same. At the turn, he paused, he got low and he inhaled, feeling along the rock as well. He found it, a jagged stone, wet with something that smelled of iron. Blood. One of the thieves had tripped and gashed a limb here. It was a treacherous turn. The blood wasn’t dry or even totally cold yet. He was very close.
He tightened the shroud around his sun-orb so that it was nearly pitch black around him. He proceeded down the tunnel straining his ears for any hint of his quarry. The going was slower now. Even with his eyes trained in the deep deep Inside Kos had to be careful here. His speed would still be better than his quarry’s he hoped.
There were two more turns in the tunnel, and a drop about six feet which was easily climbed, though Kos found a sack that had been dropped by the thieves. Just a sack of odds and ends, trinkets stolen from other victims. Nothing of Kos’s. He left it, taking it would just slow him down. Another five hundred paces ahead, the tunnel opened into a cavern. There had once been a village on the banks of a pond in the cavern, but a collapse had buried half of the village years ago and the other half had since then fled for fear of another. Talton had been the name. It had been on Kos’s route when it was alive.
Kos could see light up ahead, and tied off the shroud on his orb completely. He felt his way down the tunnel slowly, carefully, and silently. He could hear their voices echoing up the tunnel. They were speaking in Faedish, which wasn’t meant to be echoed like Nakal, so Kos’s had a trouble making out the words. His Faedish already wasn’t very good. He could tell they were arguing though.
As he reached the mouth of the tunnel, Kos made himself very low, trying to keep himself out of the light. The thieves were sitting around a smokeless alchemical flare which served as their campfire, with a small cave fish from the pond skewered just above it. The fat, hairy Sunderman was nursing his ankle with one hand and holding something with his other, making angry gestures with it. He was yelling as his partner. Kos could make it out now.
“-it? You told me there would be gold, or crystals, or whatever [a word Kos didn’t know] you dirt dwellers use for money!”
His companion was a Dunloc, like Kos. Wide dark eyes glared at the Sunderman, thin lips curling over bared teeth, and the nostrils on the Dunloc’s flat face flared in anger. He was heavy for a Dunloc, and taller than most, but still shorter than the Sunderman, even without the hunch most Dunloc carried themselves with. Probably from up the Axle, close to the Sunderlands. A lifetime of full bellies and sunshine had probably addled his brain and made him lazy. He snarled back his response.
“I told you ‘might’. ‘Might’ be crystals in it. Sometimes they collect taxes for the Aldermen. How was I to know this one was just-”
“You told me we could make a killing down here, and those were your words. Yet so far, what do we have to show for this venture? Growling stomachs, cold stone for a bed, and my ankle is probably broken!”
That was his bag in the Sunderman’s hand, Kos was sure of it. He reached into his pocket, and pulled out a small brown paper folded around a bit of red gritty powder. He pinched it between his fingers and ground it a bit more, hoping to make it go easier, then held the paper to his nose and inhaled. It burned in his sinuses and throat, but it passed in a few moments. He felt around him and his fingers closed around a small stone. He eyed the cooking flare, judging the distance and angle. It was a small half-sphere with three little legs to stand on, with the diameter of a hand’s width.
When the stone hit the flare, sending it tumbling away across the floor of the cave, the thieves eyes followed the light on instinct. That’s what Kos had been hoping for. He leapt up from his hiding spot and rushed at the Sunderman, grabbing hold of the stolen satchel. He had hoped that the confusion would loosen the Sunderman’s grip, but Kos wasn’t that lucky. The Sunderman held firm, roared in anger and heaved himself up to grapple with Kos. Kos was strong for a Dunloc, but Sundermen are on the whole bigger and stronger. The Sunderman wrapped his huge arms around Kos and tackled him to the floor. Kos struggled, but the creature’s grip was too strong. Kos kicked with his feet until they made contact with the Sunderman’s ankle. The creature cried out and let go of both Kos and the bag. Kos tried to scramble away quickly, but the other Dunloc blocked the way out of the cavern, knife in hand.
He charged Kos, slashing and hacking. Kos tried to shield himself, which earned him a dozen deep cuts on his arms. The pain was lessened by the red powder, and the blood leaked out slowly. He wouldn’t die from these cuts, but they did cut the strap of Kos’s satchel, letting it fall away. Kos lunged forward and grabbed the thief by the waist. They went down in a tangle of limbs and the knife clattered to the floor some distance away from them. The thief tried to grab Kos by the throat, but Kos took the hand and twisted it back. The other Dunloc screamed and began throwing his fist into Kos’s stomach. Kos had to let go of the hand.
The Dunloc thief was on top of him now, still trying to pummel him to death. Kos tried to cover his face and neck but the punches kept coming. Kos fumbled about for something to fight back with, like a loose rock, and his finger closed around a cold cylinder. The thief on top of him lunged back for another powerful blow, and Kos thrust the knife into his enemy’s chest. The Dunloc fell to the side, off of Kos, who was still as stone for some time.
When at last Kos shook himself and sat up, he could hear the moaning of the Sunderman in the darkness. The cooking flare had since gone out it seemed.
“Galocs? Where are you Galocs? I can’t see anything. Where are you?” sobbed the Sunderman. Kos felt his way back to where the Dunloc (Galocs had been his name it seemed), had been slashing at him. He found the bag, re-tied the strap, and slung it over his shoulder.
“Is that you?” the Sunderman must have heard him moving, “Galocs are you there? Please, I don’t wanna die down here.”
Kos began moving away carefully. He had a deep Dunloc memory and was still feeling the effects of the red powder. An image of his surroundings was etched in the stone of his mind, and he knew which way was out. If he went that way, and waited till he was back into the tunnel before un-shrouding his orb, then the Sunderman would never catch him. Rather, the Sunderman would likely perish down here in the dark. He could easily be rid of the thief. Kos looked to where he knew the tunnel was, then back towards the sounds of the sobbing man.
Kos breathed heavily as he entered the village of Kanisal, straining to support the limping Sunderman. Kos’s wounds had opened again helping to carry the Sunderman, and the bandages on his arms were soaking through with blood. The villagers quickly came out with offers to help, but Kos waved them off, simply asking where the local imperial office was. He limped into the rough hewn rock chambers of the imperial office and helped the Sunderman onto a stone bench. Three soldiers and a clerk in the office quickly approached.
“What is this? Are you alright friend?” the clerk asked hurriedly.
“I am Kos, a Runner with the guild. I have a delivery here,” he indicated his satchel, “and this man is a thief I apprehended.”
“A thief? Well we shall have the soldiers deal with him straight away, of course. The delivery?” the clerk held out his hands.
Kos opened his satchel, reached in and pulled out a stack of papers bound in twine.
“Letters from Nakan and all villages between there and here. And if you have any bound for that way I’ll be leaving in a few hours. Just as soon as I’ve seen a healer and had a bit of sleep.”
The thief looked at the stack of papers being passed between Kos and the clerk. To the bewilderment of the clerk and the three soldiers, the thief began laughing.