[Vfw-times] MK Winter assault part 20b

COkane8116 at aol.com COkane8116 at aol.com
Wed Aug 29 02:31:17 CDT 2001

   Jerome was chuckling lightly behind his embarrassed friend, and Garigan 
was peering curiously at the stacks of wine bottles along the back wall of 
the room.  Charles saw that his fellow rats were jealous of him, having a set 
of clothing so close at hand.  He wondered why now that there were others in 
the room that covering themselves suddenly became important to them, but had 
no answers.

Even so, he slipped into his shirt and breeches, donning the robe atop all of 
it.  Rubbing the black fabric, he peered to his friends. "Will you be all 
right without your clothes?  We could always go back and retrieve some for 

Goldmark nodded his head. "The passages get colder the further down we go.  
And to reach the tunnel we need, we will have to go far down indeed.  I would 
like to put something on," he glanced briefly at the two humans, a motion 
that only another Keeper would notice, "to keep myself safe from the cold." 
Charles was very certain that there were other reasons he wished to cover his 
loins as well.

"All right then," Charles said, having no desire to shame any of his friends, 
so decided to act as if he accepted the response at face value. "Elliot, 
Hector, you and my two friends here go back to your quarters and grab enough 
clothing for yourselves and both Julian and Goldmark as well.  Garigan, 
Julian, Goldmark and I will stay here.  No need to attract attention to 
ourselves by travelling in such a large group."

Zagrosek nodded then, stepping back out the door.  By the slight colour in 
his cheeks, Matthias had to wonder if the man had not become aware of the 
rat's modesty.  However, his friend glanced down the hallway, and then 
stepped completely out of the room, Elliot and Hector following after him 
uncertainly.  Their eyes traced across the strange heraldry that the four 
Sondeckis bore, without any hint of recognition in their eyes. 
Habakkuk had always wanted him to be more open about his former allegiance.  
With a bit of chagrin, Charles realised he'd accomplished that end through 
his own negligence.  However, as Jerome trailed after them, he knew that 
there was little he could have done about it.  Instead, he turned to the 
ferret and pointed at the door, "Keep a watch out in the hallway.  When 
somebody comes, I want to know if it's them or Lutins."

The ferret slunk out the door, his body smooth, and his paws making no noise 
as they danced lightly across the stone floor. Goldmark watched him, and then 
turned the other corner, not giving Charles a chance to tell him not to.  It 
was probably for the best though, as now being alone with Julian, he could 
ask what he wished to.

"Well, the others are gone for the moment.  I was hoping you'd tell me what 
your Father did to you.  I've never heard you speak of him before."

Julian closed his red eyes, the white fur rimming them appearing almost 
ghastly in comparison. "I really rather wouldn't.  It is my burden to bear, 
not yours."

Charles sat down next to the white rat, and placed one paw upon his shoulder. 
"I just want you to know that you don't have to bear it alone."

His friend lowered his head, lost in his own thoughts.  He made no move to 
dislodge Charles's paw, instead, letting it rest upon his shoulder, rising 
and falling with each breath he took.  When his face did rise, long snout 
that flushed out into a bushel of whiskers at its end, there was a look of 
profound sadness in his eyes. "Please, I do not wish to speak of it.  Do not 
ask me of it again."

Sighing, Charles removed his paw from Julian's shoulder, and sat against the 
old wood, trying not to press too hard against its fragile surface.  In the 
many years that he'd known the white rat, this had been the first time he'd 
ever spoke of his past, and of why he came to Metamor.  A faint hope from out 
of the days past had filled him for that brief moment when he thought Julian 
might say more, but it was gone now, returning once more to its dusty corner 
of his heart.

"All right, I shall speak no more of it now." His voice was thin, as if the 
life had drained from it and left it a desiccated whisper.  Julian nodded 
though, and spoke no more, simply wrapping his arms about his chest, to hold 
in the feeble warmth his body offered.  With the door open finally after all 
the countless years, the cold billowed in like a conqueror, subjecting its 
victims to all the fury it had stored since last it had ventured this way.  
Charles found himself shivering slightly, as if some unseen hand had brought 
that chill down through his robe and tunic.

Perhaps it was simply a manifestation of their fears realised in so many 
horrible ways recently that left him cold.  The thought of Nasoj invading the 
Keep was horrid enough, probably one of the greatest fears he'd ever dallied 
with.  Yet, not only was he doing so again, but an undead Wessex had summoned 
a Shrieker into their midst!  Though he had only heard of them in legends, he 
had known it even before its unearthly howl had nearly blasted their minds 
into senility.  Even the very thought of it only made him shiver more.

However, he did not have very long to wait, for several minutes later, the 
other four returned with bundles of clothing for the rats.  Julian slipped on 
his trousers and tunic without comment, as did Goldmark, but Elliot and 
Hector were rather self-conscious, turning their back to the humans as they 
made themselves presentable.  Zagrosek and Jerome both looked to Charles, as 
if expecting instructions.

Charles did not disappoint them. "We're going to get a little rest here for a 
couple hours before we move on.  We've all had a long day so far, and we need 
some sleep.  It is going to be a long trek to Glen Avery, and the last thing 
we need is for a squadron of Lutins to surprise us while we can barely keep 
our eyes open.  This is as good a place as any, and the Lutins won't suspect 
there are Keepers hiding behind a rusted door this far in the cellars.  That 
is if they even come down this far."

Jerome scanned the room, noting the shadows that were flung across the walls 
and the wine casks by the lit candles. "Well, we shouldn't burn any candles 
then, they would attract attention.  How will we know how long we've slept?"

Charles opened his mouth, and then closed it again.  That thought had not 
occurred to him.  Down here in the cellars, there were no stars to guide 
them, and if they could burn no candles, what means of telling time was left 
to them?

Hector spoke then, his voice soft, but sure. "It takes me roughly an hour to 
completely gnaw through one of my chewsticks.  I measured it one afternoon a 
few years back, I was rather bored.  I'm sure the same would be true of the 
rest of us.  There are five rats here, so we could easily have two of us 
awake at any time so we could chew for the rest of you.  Once we were done, 
we could wake the others and get our turn sleeping."

Zagrosek's eyebrows rose significantly at that suggestion, but he said 
nothing.  Jerome however, was quick to ask, "How many chewsticks do you have?"

"Four of course, five if Charles brought his own."

Matthias reached inside of his robe and drew forth a slender shaft of burl 
walnut.  He'd recently purchased it, as he found the flavour quite 
delightful.  Now that he didn't pay taxes to the Keep anymore, he could 
afford a little luxury in his selection of chewsticks.  The other four rats 
eyed the complex grain of the wood with a bit of envy.  Theirs were all made 
from the gnarly oak which was common in this region.

"All right then, we'll take two shifts," Jerome said, slowly settling to his 
knees on the cold floor. "Two of us ought to be awake at all times." he said 
this last to Charles directly, glancing speculatively at Garigan who had his 
back to the door, and one round ear pressed gently against the wood.

"Good point," Charles added, nodding and glancing over his friends. "Hector, 
Elliot, you two stay up with Garigan and I for now, the rest of you get some 
sleep.  Elliot, once everyone has settled in, blow out the candles."

Julian lay down where he was, curling his hairless tail around his flanks as 
he lay his head on the jacket that had been brought for him.  Goldmark 
nestled next to him, much like any two normal rats might, to help keep their 
warmth.  Zagrosek and Jerome both rested on their Sondeckis robes, off in one 
corner of the room.  Charles sat beside his student Garigan at the door, 
sliding his back down the cold stone wall.  The scent of rust made his nose 
itch slightly, but he ignored it, instead watching as Hector brought his 
chewstick to his teeth and Elliot walked about the room snuffing each of the 

Gritting his teeth together, Charles watched the light fade and dwindle with 
each quenched flame.  When it was only a single light shining in the 
darkness, Charles tried to capture that moment, tried to memorise where all 
the bottles lay discarded on the floor, where his friends lay huddled tightly 
in their clothes, and where the old mouldy boxes were strewn haphazardly.  
Then Elliot's breath blew past it, lighting his dirty white face for a 
moment, and then there was nothing; a darkness so complete that even the eyes 
of his fellow rodents failed to shine.

Closing his own eyes, Charles breathed in deeply, and listened to the breaths 
of his companions.  He could hear the quiet nibbling of Hector upon the wood, 
and held that sound in his mind, while his back held the wall up behind him.  
Shivering from a chill he had not felt in a long time, he knew that the hour 
would not pass quick enough.

Though, it did pass eventually, for which he was grateful.  But in that time, 
memories of something that he had wished to forget kept climbing to the 
surface of his thoughts, making him nearly gasp in terror.  The walls were 
very cold, and the room was very dark, and were it not for those walls, he 
would be lost, endlessly wandering in a field of blackness, never again 
knowing the light.  

Yet with each breath, he reassured himself that he was not trapped once more 
in that fissure as he'd been so long ago.  The scents of all seven of his 
friends filled his nostrils like blessed incense, and even the rust that 
irritated his nose so was a welcome odour.  For they were nothing like the 
cold dryness of that fissure, bereft of any sensation but the sound of his 
claws on the rock, and the feel of its chill through his fur.  And of course, 
there was always the monotony of Hector's gnawing to assist him in 
maintaining his sanity. Matthias almost longed to hear the approach of 
Lutin's footfalls, for at least they would have been something his rational 
mind could focus on, but alas, they remained unmolested.

At some point though, he was not sure when during that hour, when his heart 
trembled within his chest, and no amount of scent could possibly hold back 
the ghastly terrors that lurked, memories of a time when his mind had nearly 
left him completely an animal, a simple creature of this world with no 
thought or purpose other than to survive, his paw reached out across the span 
of the door to find the arm of his student, to feel the warmth beneath the 
cloth, and the life therein.  Garigan reached up with his paw, and they 
gripped each other for a few moments, holding tight, letting their flesh meet 
and pulse with blood.  The ferret's paw was furrier than Charles's own, and 
he slowly ran his claws though the thick grey, while he felt the back of his 
own paw massaged gently, as if in reassurance.

He did not know how long they held each other's paws like that, but it helped 
Charles fight the madness that had lay hidden within him for so long now.  In 
fact, it almost came as an unwelcome surprise when they ceased to hear Hector 
chewing anymore.  His voice though, was clear, the first real intelligible 
sound that had graced their ear drums in that interminable hour. "I've 
finished, let us wake the others and get our own rest."

Jerome yawned when Charles shook his shoulders gently, but aside from that, 
the others stirred in silence.  The two Sondeckis traded places with Charles 
ands Garigan by the door, while they curled up by the wall, resting upon 
their own robes as well.  He was not sure who was chewing now, but he kept 
that sound in his mind while he let sleep overcome him.  It came faster than 
he could have thought possible, for which he would always be grateful.

End part 21b

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