The Old City was misnamed. It had never been a city in of itself, but merely one precinct of a great ancient metropolis that had fallen into ruin over the centuries and been gradually buried by later settlements. While elsewhere the ancient city had vanished however, the precinct containing the Old City had been left alone. It was as if it were protected, but by what, or whom, nobody knew. Everyone agreed on one thing though: it was a haunted place. Elaborate, fantastical tales had developed about the great curse said to lie upon it, and it had long ago been walled up by superstitious kings and leaders and left to crumble away.
The Wall of Nod formed the Old City's northern border. The Wall had been built by a good king of olden times. King Nod had not named it after himself; rather, so illustrious was his reign that everything he had built had come to bear his name. It had been built to guard the city from some forgotten enemy to the north, and such was its thickness that two men could walk abreast along its ramparts. Except where it traced a semicircle around the Old City it was perfectly straight. There were few places in Bareheep from which it could not be seen.
An ancient cemetery lay on the other side of the wall. Faintly-remembered stories referred to it as a place of evil, but otherwise nothing was known about it. Beyond it the Northern Wilds stretched away into strangely regular hills shrouded in mist. A range of dreamlike mountains lay on the horizon.
Only one entrance to the Old City now remained: at its southern border, opposite a vacant piece of land called Killing Field. A pair of wrought iron gates stood here. They were always locked.
It was before these gates that Carmen, Slops, and Grim now stood. Of the three, Grim seemed most at ease. He gazed through the gates into the gloomy ruins, his whiskers twitching and his tail curling sinuously. The afternoon was slinking towards dusk, the shadows lengthening, and to the west the sun was huge and red, diffused by a haze that had risen off the sea. Bedlam prison hulked blackly in the foreground. There was nobody around.
"How do we get in?" Carmen said.
"Over the wall," Slops said.
Grim had no such problem: he slipped between the bars of the gate and vanished off into the gloom.
"I wish he wouldn't do that," Carmen said, looking anxiously after him.
When she turned back Slops was already halfway up the left-hand gatepost. When he reached the top he turned around and sat on the edge of the stone pillar, grinning infuriatingly down at her.
By the time Carmen had clambered up beside him she was out of breath and had scraped her knee. "Where's Grim?" she said grumpily, peering into the shadowy city.
Slops shrugged. "He'll be okay. He's a fel."
"Really? I always thought he was a shoe."
Sarcasm was wasted on Slops at the best of times. In any case he was already clambering down the other side of the wall.
When Carmen reached the ground Grim appeared from the shadows like a ghost, looking completely at home.
They set out into the Old City.
CPR is wasted on you at the best of times.
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The Seven SleepersAdventure
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