Fenris was in the dark.
He couldn't see, not for anything in the world; he was in pain, and tired, and alone, and...lost?
He tried to look around. His eyes adjusted to the light, slowly. When he got up from his seated position on the dank ground, his side caught fire. The pain leached up along his spine and nearly caused him to yelp.
He'd made a terrible mistake. He knew he could never take on that bitch apprentice Hadriana on his own. His former friend and ally had chosen not to stand with him, and yet he'd marched on, unthinking, and had paid the price. Was he dead?
No, it didn't appear so. He tried to remember what had happened, how he'd gotten here.
She'd beaten him, captured him. He'd fallen unconscious and had woken in the dark hold of a ship, still moored. And then there had been the rats...
He remembered nothing after that, and had dismissed the memory of the rats, chittering and crawling over him, as a hallucination. He'd woken up here, in the dank, and the dark, without so much as a torch to guide his way.
He sighed, rolled his eyes. How could he have forgotten his own damn talents? He screwed up his face, tapped his power. The markings of his hand obeyed, flared, sputtered out. He concentrated again, this time lighting them up a little more dimly, and had success.
Before him stood a girl, clothed in badly tanned, patchwork fur, orange and striped like a tabby cat's. She was no older than five, or perhaps six; she was elven, and dirty, and looked not altogether unlike a drowned person. What a wretch, he thought.
She took a hesitant step forward. "You're awake," she said. Then she skittered from the room, and he was alone again.
It seemed an eternity before she returned, with what looked to be a man, or what might pass as one in this place. He moved, tentatively, cautiously, in small, zigzag steps, and looked at Fenris with a pair of beady eyes that stared out at him, like buttons. He cocked his head curiously, then backed away.
"Too big," he said. He spoke with a stutter, repeated the words. "Too big by half. Too dangerous. We can't take him."
The girl protested. "But Mistress Spotbrow-"
The man shook his head emphatically, then fluttered an anxious hand. "Mistress Spotbrow don't know what she asks." He reached for Fenris's breastplate, but squeaked and scurried back when the elf knocked his hand out of the way. Curious people, he thought, but harmless enough. Then the lance in his side returned with a vengeance and he hissed with the pain of it.
"He's hurt," the girl whispered. "Can't hurt us if he's already hurt."
"Can too," said the man, and Fenris was inclined to agree. "I won't do it, won't. Won't."
The girl tugged at the man's sleeve. "We've gotta, Button. Mistress won't feed us, elsewise, and I haven't eaten in two days."
The man Button shook his head, keeping a wary glance at Fenris. "Take you to Darktown, I will. Plenty to eat by that one fella's house, the blondie."
It was the girl's turn to shake her head. "I took the last tabby the other day," she said, "but Wormwood took her from me." She rubbed her belly, which rumbled. Fenris could hear it, even from several feet away. Poor wretch.
He lurched forward, one hesitant step, and then another. The two were reminded of his presence and scampered back, fear in their eyes. He held his hands up. The action was too much; his markings faded, and the room went to black.
"See?" the girl asked, in the darkness. "Hurt. Mistress can help him, then he can help us."
"Just take me home," Fenris murmured, holding his injured side.
He heard the girl chitter a negative. "No such thing, mister," she said. "You fell through the cracks. We all did. No place for us Above, not no more."
"Then take me to this Spotbrow," he said. The girl and the man both squeaked in surprise.
"Call the Mistress by her proper name, you will, else there'll be no help for you." Seemingly convinced that Fenris was too injured to wreak much destruction, the man scurried up, hoisted the bigger man up to support a walking pace. "You help us, we help you," he said. "Won't be much, but you'd have a place here, and we all need one once we land Below."
As the girl and the man Button supported him in a slow march, he wondered who Spotbrow was and what kind of tasks she would have him do. I've fallen through the cracks, he thought as they walked, remembering the little girl's words. Sooner or later, we all fall through the cracks.