In the end, both Bandit’s tendency to follow them anyway if Max was gone too long, combined with that time in Bodeen, when they came back to find Bertona’s men sitting on their ship, made up their minds.
Maximilian had warned them that Rawne had eyes and ears all over the Harbor Quarter, so it was a very long morning, sleeping in shifts. With no real contingency plan for what to do if they actually found the Maximum, let alone if they dragged the local authorities into it. Especially since Maximilian was certain Freedan would charge them with ‘kidnapping’ him. It was no less of a relief after they woke up, worrying every step of the way about being followed.
Their first relief so far being that they found the entrance Sebastian told them about unguarded, as it held out the hope that Percival may have actually gone this way.
The entrance itself was a bent-up sewer grate that seemed to have been overlooked by repair crews. Tucked away around a corner, down a little-used alleyway, revealing a glimpse of a cramped passage even most Squatters would turn their nose up at, the grill frame bent and warped by the same compression that cracked and split the stonework all around. To top off the long-neglected look, a mangled dog lying near the opening.
They all looked among themselves a moment, as if having the same thought, double-checking their weapons.
“When we got these supplies,” Shades remarked, “I hardly had spelunking in mind. But it’s probably for the best, given how short on funds we are…”
“I’m so sorry about this,” Maximilian said yet again, “but my father is down here, and hasn’t been heard from in days. Freedan will surely drag out any dispute about the estate, and no one else will go down here…”
“We know,” Max replied. “Your home will still be there, waiting for you.”
“Thank you,” Maximilian repeated. “I promise, when we regain control of the company, I will see that you are rewarded handsomely.”
“We’re not doing this for the money,” Shades assured him, noting Max’s solemn nod. Also noting Justin’s glare, he hastily added, “But donations are always welcome.”
It took both Maxes to wrench the grill out of the way, but the reason was readily apparent once it was open: someone had jammed a piece of scrap metal in the hinge, from the inside.
“Looks like somebody didn’t wanna be followed…” Justin commented as they crawled in.
The one thing they dared to pick up along the way was some respirators, which they now donned in preparation for their descent.
Much as Shades had warned them, the smell down there was nearly overpowering. In addition to as many charcoal filters as they could get their hands on, they also packed as much fresh water as they could carry. After all, these ruins sat underneath generations’ worth of sewers.
Still wary of being followed, they decided to re-jam the grill behind them, figuring their energy blades would make short work of such an obstruction in a pinch, if they needed to make a hasty retreat from this section.
“We should keep our radios handy,” Shades suggested. “I’m not really sure what their effective range will be underground, but it’s better than nothing down here.”
“I say we test them out as soon as we find a good location,” Max recommended.
“Let’s just try not to get separated down here,” Justin piped up. “It seems like the most fucked-up shit happens to us whenever we get split up…”
“Like what?” Maximilian asked. From all their talk, these three sounded like they’d seen a lot of action.
“Oh, you know,” Shades rattled off, “dimensional anomalies, haunted houses, endless buildings…”
“Evil robots, angry spirits, ghost ships…” Justin continued.
“The walking dead, dangerous animals, and, more recently, Squatters,” Max finished.
“If we make it out of this alive,” Maximilian told them, “you’re going to have to tell me the whole story, you guys.”
At first it was a struggle to avoid bumping their heads on the low, uneven ceilings, while trying to balance not tripping over ruts, despite a general aversion to paying too much attention to what they were stepping in in these dank passages, but eventually it gave way to more accommodating ceilings as they descended. Suggesting places originally built for humans to tread. The sewers themselves fast turning into a maze, a rats nest built and modified haphazardly over the centuries without any central plan, but they kept to any passages with a downward slant.
At first they could hear faint echoes of the city above, even spotted a few scant shafts of light hinting at other ways out, as well as the only visible sources of fresh air, but as they worked their way down, those hints of the surface grew fewer and farther between, eventually vanishing altogether as they passed through a collapsed wall into a series of catacombs.
Even Max found himself doing his best not to let his light linger too long on any of the shriveled shapes and jumbled piles of bones littering those ancient alcoves, like his friends, beginning to wish he hadn’t brought up so many of the creepiest places they’d been along the way.