Chapter One: Riph Raiders
My wooden feet tap rigidly across the cobblestones. In front of me, the other members of the team run quietly down the street like the tail of a lost kite. We reach the chosen house. Despite the late hour, the gas lamps are lit inside and the occupants of the building are laughing. They will not see the sun again. We are their fate, and we begin to release the lock on their front door.
The hallway floor is lined with an expensive carpet, money that could have been spent on a better lock, or a watchman. Our hard, heavy bodies leave a trail of dents in the fibres. The detectives won't understand in the morning.
I start to sense the riphs of our victims behind a door to the right. It is an odour, half sickly and half appetizing, like raw meat in a butcher's shop. The others feel it too, and our leader aims a shoulder at the door. It breaks easily; we cognights are far stronger than any person.
There is panic and horror on the other side. A wealthy aivish family stares at our alien bodies. We move before they do, faster and more powerfully. A young man tries to strike me and I crush his fist in my mechanical fingers. As he staggers back I carefully break his skull with my wooden wrist. Some of his spirit leaks from the wound but it does not matter; he will live long enough for our purpose. His limp body is light in my arms as we leave the house. I count our victims without looking. There are seven, enough to avoid punishment from the King.
The journey back is slower as we must remain unseen whilst carrying our awkward cargo. We are immediately aware of any potential witnesses. Cognights do not see or hear or taste like other beings. The aeriph, the spirit plane, is our only sensory input. We reach it with the King's Lore and it drives everything we do. In return we feed it the riphs of our victims.
We file into an abandoned inn which conceals the nearest entrance to Krithen's catacombs. The city is old and the tunnels go deep. We jog downhill for a few minutes, sensing the aeriph grow stronger in the damp air. The moisture is heavy with decaying spirit, and I feel a slight revulsion at it. It is a sensation that I have had only recently - disgust at the thought of countless pulverised riphs circling around me.
We arrive at the Releasing Pit. The aeriph is excitedly hungry; an almost audible spiritual hum rises from the depths of the underground hole. It is pitch black, but to us the filthy stone walls of the Pit are vivid, coated in physical and mental viscera. Our unconscious victims are passed forwards. I find myself at the front of the team, clutching the limp body of an old man. I hope that he is dreaming as we cast the night's catch over the edge. One of them moans faintly as he tumbles through the darkness. His nightmare is real. A moment later we sense a distant, bloody impact. I flinch. Our work is done.
"Do you trust the King?" I transmit to 27 as we return deeper into the catacombs. A cognight's body ends at the shoulders, but I imagine that 27 is looking at me.
"Of course," 27 replies, "The King is the only conscious cognight.