Frances Whisperwheel had run to the basement of his clock shop when the ruckus began.
Two huge creatures - one a reptiloid and one a black bear - had crashed through the wall of the Fog District in what Frances assumed was some kind of bloodsport. The sound was gigantic: louder than any of the annoying fireworks from the Entertainment District that the little raccoon had heard in his years in Vulane.
By the time the two had crashed through the front of his shop, Frances had estimated the loss in his head: forty thousand gold pieces. Calculating in his head, the collection - apart from one clock - was the entire life’s earnings of four average laborers in the main continent.
Perhaps rats that spent their lives on one of those dirty ships.
He waited until the extremely loud sounds had died down and were replaced with calm voices telling creatures to ‘clear the area’. The cellar had pieces of glass scattered on the floor. Frances delicately picked up a few of the shards, recognizing each and how much he paid the glassblowers to create them.
Each step was torture: he recognized the meticulous mechanisms of his delicate clocks on each. All except one - his eyes were still scanning for that.
His collection. His life’s work. The raccoon - deadeyed in his little suit - wandered into the chaotic street. Creatures in silver masks were standing at every entrance and exit with long spears. Dust was in the air as mages were directing wealthy visitors away from that area of the district.
Frances emerged into the constantly-raining and foggy district of Vulane with dead eyes. The dust clung to his little suit as a fox in white and blue robes rushed up to him.
“Sir Whisperwheel,” he said smoothly, draping his arm around the raccoon’s shoulder. “Please becalm yourself as we deal with this minor incident.”
“Archbishop Veilwinter?” Frances said, blinking. “It must not be very minor if you’re here.”
The fox smiled. He had burning blue eyes and healthy white fangs, which he flashed. Suddenly, his smile disappeared. “What happened to your shop?”
Frances wet his lips. “The-- the incident, I guess? They... my collection destroyed, including... Well, I can’t find the crown jewel of it.”
“And you were insured?”
Frances’ heart began to beat faster. “Y-You know the clock I’m talking about?”
The fox hung his head for a moment, then looked the raccoon in the eyes and clapped him on the shoulder. “We’ll look into it, sir.”
“Is it safe? Have you caught them?”
The fox began a nod that turned into a gently-concerned frown. “We’ve caught the bear. The reptile is being tracked down as we speak.”
Frances sighed and knelt into the broken glass, gently scraping a dusting of it into a little pile. The archbishop fox spoke up again.
“The Fogs has one of the best black markets in The World. Perhaps you can find what you need from Scratch.” Frances looked up and nodded. “Good lad. I’ll send one of my representatives to help you rebuild - perhaps - in a day or so.”
Already Frances could see a group of rats and weasel laborers fixing the wall between the Entertainment district and the Fogs as the fox turned away from him.
Frances felt lost and simply stood there a while: his life’s work destroyed... although the most valuable piece may simply be missing. Silvermask guards were wandering the area, making sure the wealthiest citizens were safe, so Frances was comfortable walking the Fog district streets, meandering his way to the Black Fog market.
Meanwhile, a slender ferret carrying a large burlap sack slipped into the Black Fog Cafe. Outside the opium den were dozens of creatures lazily drinking in the mountains of smoke that billowed out of the doors and windows of the ill-reputed establishment. The ferret, Farah, carefully stepped over them as they lounged and held each other, careful not to disturb the contents of her bag.
There was a silvermask - a brainwashed creature in thrall to Veilwinter Temple with one of Vulane’s classic face guards - at the entrance. Some kind of border collie with a long poleaxe who watched Farah enter with dead eyes and silent tongue. Farah began to mosey in a disoriented manner, all the while trying not to drink in too much of the smoke.
She had to make the delivery quick: already she was feeling the effects. Inside were wealthier creatures relaxing on large, ornate pillows as the enchanted windows above displayed scenes from farflung places. Farah controlled her breathing but she was already feeling the effects as she stepped up to the unblinking silvermask - a hare this time - near the entrance to The Depths.
She held out a piece of parchment. “I’m here to see Azheretiti,” Farah coughed. “Her signature,” she said, pointing with a tiny claw to the burned edge of the parchment. It was still giving off purple smoke, even days later.
The silvermask leered mindlessly as they studied the parchment and stepped aside. It was the reason that this was the Fogs: the smoke billow that rushed out was overwhelming, swirling with all the colors of the rainbow plus a few more.
Farah closed her eyes and held her breath as she skittered down the stone stairs, always mindful of her treasure. Slowly the glow from Azheretiti’s lair began to reflect off the train of smoke. Soon, though, Farah slid onto the floor in a rare moment of her losing her footing. When she stood up, she was greeted with the great obsidian-colored snout and fangs of the Great Black Dragon, Azheretitierehtiazr:
“She Whose Smoke Fills Vulane.”
Farah rolled on her side and avoided the billow of smoke aimed right at her.
Farah coughed a few times to clear her lungs, but Azheretiti aimed another blast at her. Farah jumped aside adroitly and wagged her finger like a schoolmarm.
“Very untoward, Azeretiti,” Farah said, her eyes filled with tears. “If I lose my mind, how can I steal more trinkets for you?”
The black dragon sat up on a gigantic pillow, dislodging great piles of treasure - her huge purple turban sitting delicately on her slender head. The huge golden pipe in her claw left her lips as she smiled.
“You are as good as they say,” Azheretiti said. “Show me.”
Farah carefully took the clock out of the bag and showed the great dragon, whose great violet eyes opened wide and sparkled before Farah secreted the object away back into her bag. Azheretiti frowned.
“How dare you!” The great dragon breathed, her poisonous, tantalizing breath - infused with the unique ‘spices’ of Vulane - filling the cavern. Farah covered her snout with a special scarf that she had spent a week’s income on.
“No, no,” Farah said as she skirted around and up and back and forth. “Payment first.” The scarf was not enchanted - she despised magic - and as a result the scarf had a limited lifespan... but Azheretiti did not know that.
Outside, the billowing breaths of the ancient dragon was filling the Fog district with the infused lung smoke of the addicted creature. Frances waved the smoke away from his delicate nose as he made his way to the one-eyed jaguar, Scratch.
“H-hello, Scratch,” the raccoon said delicately.
Scratch crossed his huge arms, fully aware of Whisperwheel’s alliances. “What do you want, raccoon?”
“I-I’m looking for a clock mechanism I recently lost.”
“Indeed?” The huge cat asked. Finally, he had something on that fox.
“Perhaps we can help one another?” Whisperwheel asked.
“Your collection of timepieces meant much to you, eh?” Scratch chortled.
The raccoon blinked. “Y-yes, indeed!”
“Unfortunately I have not seen it... I shall ask a ferret friend of mine. She runs a booth of exquisite items in the South of the Fogs. Stay here, friend raccoon.”