On the sixth evening of the Month of Hearths, Rodof came storming into Pieter's home, white-faced and panic-stricken, claiming to have been chased by a group of ruffians wearing the leather suits and vapor masks used by the men working in the whale oil factories. Pieter gave him supper and drink, sending him on his way later in the night. After which, Rodof was never again seen.
-Excerpt from a journalist's report on organized criminal activity
Nick swore under his breath as he crawled through the mud and congealed whale oil that clogged the interior of a large brass pipe. In many places the pipeline was all but blocked with debris. At several such points, Nick had been forced to get down onto all fours to wriggle through a gap that was just big enough for him. The smell was truly horrific - the sickly-sweet smell of dozens of decomposing rats mixed with salt-water brine and a cloying, moldy and fungal scent.
It was in moments like this that Nick wished he wasn’t a fox. Or at the least, not a red fox; Nick suspected that Finnick had been able to use his smaller size to his advantage, especially in cases like this. But even if Nick were a smaller fox, it would do nothing to overcome the near debilitation that came with having such a sensitive nose in such a rancid place
No - for that, he’d need to be some other kind of mammal. A rabbit, perhaps? Nick’s mind conjured the image of the Lady Protector crawling through the pipe, and he couldn’t help but grin. He doubted that Hopps had ever been in a situation where crawling through mud and rat corpses was required - no doubt it would offend her highborn sensibilities. But in his mind - though clearly unamused as she crawled through the darkness - the rabbit nevertheless wore a steely grimace of determination.
Nick shook his head to clear his thoughts. Now wasn’t the time for daydreaming, he had a job to do - one that he was sure would test his abilities to the limit.
The Shadow Fox had weighed his options for infiltrating Daud’s base at the Rudshore Financial building. His usual approach would have been to stick to the rooftops of the district, which would afford him a relatively easy path for someone as fleet of foot as Nick. In a normal district, it would also allow him to move undetected by citizens and guards alike. But the Sunken District had no guards, no citizens - only weepers, rats, river krusts, and Daud’s Whalers. And like him, the Whalers knew how to use the ‘thieves highway’ created from the densely packed roofs of the city.
Judging from the trap Nick had blundered into on his way to the refinery, he had little doubt that the Whalers had set up several more to guard any approach to the Financial building. Further, the path from the refinery was all uphill - any sentries would no doubt see Nick well before he saw them.
So Nick had decided to take a covered approach, eyeing the suspended pipeline that once carried thousands of gallons of freshly refined whale oil across the district. It had long since stopped flowing - yet another casualty in the collapse of the district - and in the intervening year had fallen into grave disrepair. But Nick had been confident that he could traverse it without too much trouble, an estimation that he was now cursing himself for as he forced his way through the pipe.
The fox paused to catch his breath. If his sense of direction hadn’t failed him, he had to be getting close to his destination. Just a few more sections of pipe and he should start to look for a way out.
And though he found the smell almost intolerable, Nick was thankful he had a fox’s keen night vision. Periodic cracks and holes in the pipeline provided just enough illumination from the outside for him to see when almost any other mammal would have been enveloped in pitch-black darkness.
Nick pushed forward through the pipe for a few minutes, before he caught sight of something that he was not expecting.
The corpse of a weeper - an opossum, by the looks - lay curled against the wall of the pipe. Nick could see that both of its hands were curled up in front of its head, clutched tightly around something.
Something that was making a unearthly, ghostly noise - a pulsing, rhythmic sound of wind, but laced with a metallic tinge. A sound that Nick was oddly familiar with, though he did not know why.
Chills ran down the fox’s spine, and he barely stopped himself from bolting backwards.
Cautiously, Nick drew closer to the weeper’s corpse, craning his neck to see what it was that the weeper clutched so close to its chest.
Even in the dark, the white whale bone gleamed - a round, polished circle of ivory, studded with rusty iron and a symbol scored in black lines on the surface.
The Outsider’s symbol.
The memories came unbidden - an overseer, holding aloft a sheet of canvas scored in charcoal with that same baleful symbol. The look of shock and agony on his father’s face. The exaltation on the face of that pig Campbell as he threw it down in front of the judge.
Nick couldn’t stop the growl that sounded from deep in his chest. Even so many years later, the pain was too fresh.
Damn the Outsider, damn the world!
Nick kicked the corpse, stiff now with rigor mortis, sending the polished ivory charm sailing into the muck and darkness. The opossum's body slid into the brackish sludge, face first.
Nick was breathing heavily. Ignoring the foul stench of the pipe, the fox remembered Finnick’s lessons; “Breathe, damn it - breathe!” the fennec had told him on a number of occasions.
And in a moment, Nick felt his pulse slow. None of this was helpful - he had to get through this pipe. With a last glance back towards the weeper, Nick spat and turned his back.
The pipe continued for some time, before Nick found a gap large enough to fit through. Upon emerging from the pipe to a wooden platform, Nick blinked as the first rays of the pre-dawn sun curled around the horizon and climbed into the sky.
When his vision cleared, Nick saw a great stone effigy of Jessamine Kaldwin in front of him marking the corner of the triangular Financial building. In her hands, the panthress held a stone scepter symbolizing the justice of the crown.
Nick felt his lips curl into a sneer.
He brought his paws to his eyes to rub away the discomfort, and found himself poised before Daud’s base of operations.
Without delay, the fox reached back into his satchel and drew from it a small vial containing a blue liquid. It was a remedy created by Nick’s craftsman, Piero. The ferret had told him a hundred times to drink the vial if he ever came into contact with any weepers. Nick wasn’t sure the elixir would cure the plague, but figured it would at least lessen the chances of him catching the damn thing. Nick wasn’t usually one to be paranoid, but catching the plague wasn’t a risk he was willing to take. Tossing the empty vial over his shoulder he removed another vial from his satchel, this one containing a red fluid - Sokolov’s elixir, a competing ‘cure’ for the plague. Might as well hedge his bets, Nick figured and swallowed the second vial.
Looking forward, he saw the flooded street below, and an array of wooden platforms - strategically placed - overlooking the various approaches.Nick would need to be careful - he had no doubt that those platforms would be frequented by Daud’s whalers. Looking around his immediate vicinity, Nick spotted a low roof between two larger buildings on his left. A perfect opportunity.
Notching a grappling arrow, the fox took aim and fired. The hook caught on the lip of the roof, and with a tug Nick was certain it had caught. Nick clambered up the rope and shortly found himself lying flat on a roof overlooking the corner of the Financial building.
Below him he saw a ruined building, immediately adjacent to the financial building. Built into the ruined masonry were a set of elevated platforms and walkways, made of wood and corrugated steel. With his trained eye, Nick could just make out a few figures moving amongst the walkways.
Three whalers stood watching the various approaches to the building, clad in their wleather coats and iconic masks. Back before the district flooded, the masks were worn by whale oil refinery workers to prevent them from breathing in the harsh fumes. Now, The Knife of Dunwall had repurposed them as a symbol of his assassins, striking fear into the hearts nobility and commoners alike.
Nick watched them cautiously - he would need to be careful to get past them.
Luckily for the fox, two of the three whalers were looking away from his particular approach. The third, a russet-furred jackal or dingo (judging from the figure’s size and tail), seldom glanced up. Nick could use this to his advantage.
As Nick observed the other two whalers (a badger and a raccoon), he noticed a pattern in their patrol: both would pause at opposite corners of the rough square formed by the raised platform built around the ruined building. As the three Whalers looked out, none of their eyes would be on Nick.
He began to climb down the side of the building he was on, using its corner to conceal him from the whalers. His claws found small divots and protrusions in the masonry, and he quickly descended to a platform below. He hazarded a glance around the corner, and saw that the two patrolling Whalers were nearing their respective corners.
Its now or never, Nick thought.
In a flash, the fox dashed forward - ever mindful of loose rubble or slick surfaces. A slip or stumble here would spell certain death, either at the hands of an alerted Whaler or from an impact with the street below.
Just as the whalers began to turn to continue their circuit Nick arrived at the stone column of a ruined chimney that jutted out from the corner of the building that supported the platforms. Throwing himself flat against it, Nick let out the breath he had long been holding.
On a count of five, he thought. One … two …
Nick’s senses were hyper-aware of the sound of creaking boards under the paws of the whalers, the squeak and groaning of leather coats as they continued their circuit.
Three … four
The raccoon whaler was close enough now that Nick could hear the muffled sound of breathing through the mask. In a second the whaler would walk around the corner and spot him for sure.
Nick dashed around the chimney, only the barest flash of tail visible as the whaler rounded the corner. In the split second that followed, Nick saw that he had timed things perfectly - the two other whalers were all looking away from the fox as he deftly hopped across a small gap between the platform and the edge of the Financial Building. Without a glance behind, Nick slipped through a broken window into the dark interior.
It was cooler inside the ruined building. Though cloying, the damp smell of moldy wood was a relief from the overwhelming smell of brine and fetid water. Inside, two rows of bookshelves covered in dust and debris lined the walls. The tattered remains of a once fine rug covered hardwood, bloated from the water, the finish having long dulled. Ducked down between two shelves, Nick suppressed a sneeze and caught his bearings.
Now that his vision had adjusted to the near pitch black interior, the fox cautiously peeked around the side of the shelf. Dust filtered through the dim, ghostly rays of light that shone in from the moonlit night. Down a long stretch of corridor, Nick could see a flickering patch of warm light reflected on a wall - a candle or whale oil lamp.
Well, someone’s home, Nick noted.
He quickly reached into his pack, pulling out two long strips of cloth. WIth a practiced hand, he wound the strips around his his feet to muffle the sound - he’d lose some traction sure, but that was better than announcing his presence to the world as his claws clacked on hardwood.
The fox crept forward down the corridor towards the light, darting from alcove to alcove and sticking to the shadows as befit his name. Nearing the end of the hallway, Nick was able to make out the remains of filing room. The opposite wall was covered floor to ceiling in cabinets, some opened or missing - the receipts and documents they once contained littered the floor. Several larger cabinets and furnishings were curiously arrayed in a kind of semi-circle around a small chair and table in the center of the room that bore a small whale oil lamp.
Nick noted the long dark shadows cast by the furniture in the flickering light as they formed a perfect path around the circumference of the room.
Too perfect, he thought.
If he could have arranged the furniture in the room himself, Nick couldn’t have made it easier to dash through. Why would the Whalers setup a room like this in the heart of their building? Only a complete novice would be unable to get past.
Oh, of course! Nick realized. They must use this for training.
He glanced around warily, and after failing to spot anyone pressed forward. Rounding the circle, Nick saw that at the other side of the room debris was piled up to access a small interior courtyard open to the sky. Taking care to tread lightly as he topped the pile to peer into the courtyard, Nick saw an open window on the floor above.
The fox felt his ear twitch as it caught the muffled sound of voices entering the room behind him.
“... done well. Now we will assess your ability to remain undetected.”
Left with no options, Nick quickly ducked down into the courtyard. Eyeing an exposed metal duct, the fox latched on and began to climb. Reaching the top quickly, Nick pulled himself through the window into the room above.
It was another filing room, though much smaller and densely packed with desks and shelves caked in dust. It opened onto another hallway that surrounded a large central room with two levels. Nick quickly checked the hallway for Whalers only to find it empty.
Where is everyone? Nick wondered.
Not one to question a lucky turn, the fox dashed forwards and peered into the central room.
A large desk sat in the back of the room underneath the floor of the second level. It was piled with books and papers, and unlike the damaged furniture in the rest of the building was clearly in good condition. A number of boards sat behind the desk covered in pamphlets, charts, maps, and prominently featuring a handful of drawn portraits - about a half dozen were for wanted criminals, low-life thugs and petty murderers. The rest seemed to feature nobles or political figures. And many of both had red X’s drawn over them.
This must be where Daud plans his hits, Nick reasoned. If he’s stashed that log anywhere it’ll be here.
The fox crept up to the door to the room and gingerly tested the handle. It was locked.
Nick glanced around furtively, before quickly retrieving a set of lockpicks and setting to work. After a minute of fiddling, he heard the distinctive click of the tumblers aligning and the door cracked open.
Huh, I expected Daud to have better security than this, Nick thought. But whatever - get in, get the log, get out. The less time I spend here the better.
Nick opened the door just wide enough to slide through and gingerly crept forward. Something about this whole thing was off, and it set him on edge. Stepping carefully to avoid any creaking boards, he crossed the room to the desk.
Glancing warily around the empty room, Nick tried one of the drawers to the desk. When it refused to open, the fox quickly set to work with his lockpicks. This lock was tough, much tougher than the others he’d encountered so far. But the Shadow Fox was no amateur, and after discarding a half dozen broken picks, he at last slid open the drawer of Daud’s desk to reveal a dusty tome, slightly mouldering and smelling of brine and sea salt.
This had to be the ship’s log, Nick reasoned, and he quickly pulled it free. With a quick blow, he removed the coat of dust from the cover. Embossed into the leather binding was the name Silver Sea.
Got it! Nick exalted, quickly tucking the ship’s log into his pack before looking up.
“Well I’ll be damned. I gotta give you credit, fox. I thought the weepers would get you for sure.”
The voice was deep, a growl almost - dispassionate on the surface, but with a steely edge that belied a barely contained menace.
Yellow, almost gold eyes seemed to glow out of the gloom. The lupine figure was clad in the same leather as his Whalers, but his leather coat was dyed a brilliant crimson. Nick could only assume this to be Daud. Unlike his subordinates, the wolf had no need to conceal his face. The timber wolf’s muzzle was tilted down to allow him to fully scrutinize the fox in front of him.
“Easy there, kit. Don’t do anything you’ll regret.” Daud said, the barest hint of amusement in his voice.
Nick panicked, glancing in all available directions for a way out. But no matter where he looked, he was dismayed to find a Whaler, paw at their hip, sword at the ready.
Daud had him surrounded, the crafty bastard.
It all made sense. The lax security, the ease with which he picked the locks. It was a trap, and he’d played right into it.
The only consolation Nick had was that he was still breathing, so clearly Daud didn’t mean to kill him. But the question remained; why was he alive? Nick doubted it was for his good looks and personalty.
Nick weighed his options carefully, deciding to employ tact before anything else.
“You’ve gone to a lot of trouble to lure me here, Daud. So what can the Shadow Fox do for you?” Nick bowed dramatically, hoping a show of grandeur would curry some favor.
Daud’s gaze narrowed as he studied the fox. It seemed to Nick that the wolf was always evaluating, weighing the options, considering the outcomes.
At last he said, “Who sent you?”
Nick thought carefully - he could lie and describe any number of mammals that could’ve sent him, or he could tell the truth. Glancing at Daud’s penetrative gaze, Nick decided on the later.
“The Royal Protector. She seemed quite concerned.”
Daud laughed hollowly, “Of course. That rabbit is a fierce protector isn’t she?”
The wolf cocked his head, his gaze turning to Nick, studying his every reaction.
Nick frowned and said, “What is it you want from me? You went to a lot of trouble to lure me here, after all.”
The wolf stared at Nick for a long moment before he said, “Rumor has it the Shadow Fox knows a direct route into Dunwall Tower. One that only the skilled can traverse.”
“And where did you hear this rumor from?”
Daud paused, his gaze narrowing at the fox. A moment passed before he said, “I’ve seen you, on the roof of the waterlock. We’ve been watching for some time. We need somebody like you.”
“Like me?” Nick asked, rubbing the back of his neck with his paw. “Why do you need me?”
“An assassin’s goal is to eliminate a target,” Daud said. “But a thief needs to extract an item and leave undetected.”
The wolf glanced sidelong at the fox before continuing, “We understand you have no love for the the Empress. You can help us get to her with a minimum of exposure. You know my reputation. I will get to my target, one way or another. But you, you could help me get there with the minimum amount of loss of life.”
Daud turned to face Nick directly. “The Knife of Dunwall isn’t the only mammal with a reputation. There are many tales of the Shadow Fox - quiet, in and out … nothing seen but a tuft of red fur.”
The wolf cocked his head and smiled, “I think if there’s anyone in this city who can help me, it’s got to be you … or am I wrong?”
Nick cocked an eyebrow, before asking, “Do I have a choice in the matter?”
Daud laughed hollowly, “What do you think?”
Glancing around him at the sheer number of whalers that surrounded him, Nick could only sigh.
“Seeing as how one choice would end with me being disemboweled, I think I’ll help you.”
“Smart kit,” Daud said, before waving a paw. At this command, half a dozen whalers bowed and turned to leave.
“So…” Nick began. “I hope you’re not expecting charity here…”
Daud let out a small laugh, turning away and moving towards his planning table. “Of course not. You’ll receive more than your fair cut, don’t you worry.”
“Good. Then there’s only one more thing I need to know. Who’s the target?”
The wolf’s gaze was all that shifted, his gold eye fixed on Nick in an instant.
“The Empress … Are you surprised?”
Nick swallowed thickly.
“No, I guess not,” the fox said. “But only her?”
Daud turned to look square at Nick, studying him intently for a moment before replying.
“Only her, no-one else.”
Nick paused for a long minute in thought.
“Ok, I’m in.”