[Vfw-times] MK Winter Assault part 50

COkane8116 at aol.com COkane8116 at aol.com
Sat Nov 3 23:23:51 CST 2001

  We've reached the magic 50!!! :) HURRAH!



"How much longer do you figure we'll be down here?"
"I have no idea. All I know is that this has been the first staircase we've 
come across that leads up for the last hour. Somehow I doubt it could be 
worse than the endless tunnels we've had to endure to this point."
Jacob nodded grimly and continued to plod up the narrow stair case behind 
Rickkter. His paws were sore from covering what felt like untold miles of 
varied stone flooring, most of that littered with various debris. At least 
with Rickkter in front, he didn't have to worry about spider webs covering 
his face any longer. So focussed was he on Rickkter's back and simply putting 
one foot in front of the other that it took him a moment to realize they had 
reached the top of the stairway.
"At least this looks promising," Jacob observed, his ears perked up. "The 
floors seem dry, and the walls don't appear rotted out."
"Very true. Now the trick will be in finding someone."
Jacob nodded and sniffed at the air around them. Finding someone was probably 
not going to be difficult, the catch was finding someone who would not try 
and kill them on sight. Surely a good number of the Keepers would have sought 
shelter down here from the invading army. Of course the army would know that, 
His whiskers twitched at some of the more pungent odours. Perhaps finding 
someone in this place defiantly wouldn't that difficult after all; it 
appeared no one had been down here in months. He was so caught up in some of 
the more unusual odours, that Jacob almost missed Rickkter when he turned 
down a small side corridor. About to inquire why they were going that way, 
Jacob had his muzzle quickly clamped shut by the raccoon's paw. Rickkter 
placed a finger across his own lips as he quickly but gently led the fox a 
bit deeper into the corridor. The witchlight continued to bob its merry way 
down the corridor, eventually leaving the two morphs enclosed in darkness. 
Jacob figured someone must be following them, but he certainly had heard no 
signs of pursuit...
Well, seeing and hearing were two totally different things. Just as he was 
about to again ask what was going on, his ears picked up the sounds of feet 
very, very lightly sliding over the stone flooring at the mouth of the 
corridor. Whoever it was, Rickkter was on them like a flash, grabbing the 
form by its neck and slamming it hard up against the wall. Before Jacob could 
even raise his own weapon, Rickkter had a new witchlight burning and a dagger 
shoved up against the neck of their prisoner.
It turned out their prisoner was a scrawny, naked, and very panic-stricken 
looking rat. His attention was being split three ways, between Rickkter's 
dagger, the blood clotting the front of Rickkter's coat, and the look of pure 
homicidal menace Rickkter was giving him back. "Okay, who the hell are you?" 
the raccoon growled.
"G-Goldmark." the rat stammered.
"And what were you doing following us?"

"I wanted... I wanted to see what you were doing!" That last past was a 
little loud, and Rickkter squeezed the rat's throat to make sure he 
understood that. Goldmark resumed in something a little over a hissing 
whisper. "The Keep has been overrun, you two are the first keepers I've seen 
down here. I wanted to make sure you weren't in with them."
"I think there's little chance of that," Rick replied.
Jacob wuffed in agreement. "Exactly. We wouldn't have had to spend most of 
today crawling through the sewers just to get in here. How bad are things 
going? Is the army holding at the walls to the actual Keep itself?"
"We've been totally overrun!" Goldmark squeaked out. At that news Rickkter 
let him slip down the wall, though he kept the dagger held close. "The 
defenders never saw it coming; it was only a matter of a few minutes before 
the overran the walls. That's all I know since we took refuge down here."
"'We'?" Jacob casually inquired, his ears cocked to side.
Goldmark slumped against Rickkter's paw, his ears folded back against his 
head, and muttered something. "Look, we're not going to harm either you or 
your friends," Rick told him. "Frankly, all we want to do is find the other 
keepers, find some kind of shelter."
"Well that... that I can do." Goldmark's little black eyes lifted to stare at 
Rickkter. "That is, if you'll let me go."
Rickkter nodded, letting go and sheathing his knife. "Okay. Sorry about being 
so rough on you, but we didn't know who we'd run into."
Goldmark combed through the fur at his neck, rubbing at various spots. 
"Understandable, considering. The rest are jumpy as well, why I'm out here. 
Now I can take you where we're holed up, but I don't know how you two will be 
able to fit through the entrance."
"You fit through."
"Ah, but there's a difference. You'll see when we get there. And till then, 
no talking. And dim the light."
Rickkter cocked an eye ridge at that, but silently followed the rat, the 
witchlight little more than a light gathering of sparks in the darkness. The 
little, silent black rat navigated them down corridors and up winding spiral 
staircases with the ease of one quite familiar with their surroundings. 
Eventually the trio came to a solitary store room, the door of heavy oak and 
bearing a lock that looked like it had not been touched in ages. Rickkter 
commented on that. "So how do we get inside?"
Goldmark simply pointed down to the small rat hole in the bottom of the door. 
"I told you you'd have problems getting in."
A sharp grimace on his muzzle, Rick bent and looked closer at the lock. "You 
go inside now, tell them we're coming. We'll be there in a moment." Jacob saw 
Rick had drawn the smaller of his two swords and was working the point into 
the space between the lock and the hasp.
Goldmark was quick to shift to rat form and scurry inside. Rickkter waited a 
few moments, making sure his knife was set correctly, before he gave it a 
quick jerk and split the hasp. Almost no sound, Jacob noticed. Must have been 
a spell. Rickkter had to brace himself against the wall in order to force the 
door open. Despite the sound dampening spell, Jacob still heard the hinges 
The storeroom, much to Jacob's surprise, turned out to be an old wine cellar. 
Inside was Goldmark and three other rats, all huddled around a trio of 
"Nice going," spat one of the rats, a medium brown one. "Now how the hell are 
we going to keep the invaders out of here?"
"I cast a few minor fear spells, enough to dissuade anyone from looking down 
the hall. Also a few illusions on the door itself. It won't appear to have 
been touched in years." Rick looked away from the rat and over the bottles of 
wine. "Besides, we won't be staying here long."
"Oh?" asked the brown one again. The grey and white ones were huddled off in 
the corner away from the mage, letting their friend do the talking. "Why is 
"Because," Rickkter replied, picking up a bottle from the wall racks and 
inspecting the label, "we have an army that has overrun the Keep. If they 
win, they'll eventually find you here and kill you. If you have to die, 
better to do it fighting for something." He turned the bottle towards the 
rat. "My friend and I have not had any food since last night. Mind if we?"
The rat snorted. "If you can get it open. We've nothing to extract the cork 
on those."
Rickkter just smirked at him, one side of his whiskers tilting up. He turned 
the bottle back and crabbed his fingers over the top, so that the tips of his 
claws were against the glass. With a light screech, he turned the bottle in a 
circle, clasped the top when that was done, and with a slight strain pulled 
the top off. "Magic. A wonderful thing," he explained to the still unamused 
rat. He gave the others in the room a quick toast. "Morricore, a very good 
wine. Cheers." And he tipped back the bottle, taking a full mouthful.

Which he promptly spat out in a deep scarlet spray all over the wall.
"Ug, maybe not so good," he said, grimacing at the label once again. "The 
stuff's been down here long enough to turn to vinegar."
"You said.... something about getting out of here." It was one of the other 
rats, the white one, Jacob noted. "Where do you plan to go?"
"The Lightbringer Temple. It's one of the few fall back strongholds within 
the keep, and.... that is probably where I'd be needed most. Misha's also 
told me that they've provisions there to last out a siege such as this."
Jacob added, softly. "You know you can't hide forever."
"Watch us," the brown one said, bitterly.
"I'm going with you," the white one said to Rickkter, slowly standing up. 
Goldmark and the grey rat also assented.
"Damn it all, Julian," the brown one mumbled as he rose to his feet. "You'll 
get us all killed." He heaved a sigh. "Fine. Guess I'll go, too."
"Perhaps names are in order, then. I'm Rickkter, that's Jacob."
"Julian," said the white rat. "You already know Goldmark. My friend here is 
Elliot, and that's Hector," he concluded, pointing.
The raccoon just nodded. "Right. Okay, get together what you're taking with 
you, because we're moving out."


12/26 1pm

    Raven looked up from her desk, where she sat before a stack of old books 
she had gathered from the Archives some hours before. They were collections 
of prophecies, gathered from a wide variety of sources, most of them several 
hundred years old. She had been hoping to find some prediction of the current 
assault on Metamor, but so far her search was coming up empty.
    "Aye. Come in, Daria."
    The young woman stuck her head in through the open door, then moved to 
stand before Raven's desk.
    "How have your raids been progressing?" the priestess asked.
    "Very well, Mistress," Daria said, nodding once. "No casualties as yet, 
and we've rescued several people from isolated rooms behind enemy lines. 
We've also made contact with Father Hough at the cathedral."
    "Excellent!" Raven said, her ears perking forward. "How is everyone?"
    "Safe and secure, it seems. Lady Kyia seems to be doing her best to 
protect them."
    The wolf-woman smiled. "I knew she would," she said, half to herself.
    "Lord Thomas is there, as well," Daria added. "Apparently, he arrived 
with Master Cutter and several of his guards some time yesterday. Cutter is 
wounded, but they think he will be all right."
    "Good," Raven said, nodding. "Has the Duke given you new orders, then?"
    "No. On the contrary, he was quite pleased with our efforts," Daria 
replied, her green eyes sparkling with satisfaction.
    "I thought he might be," Raven agreed. "It sounds as though you are doing 
an excellent job, Daria. Carry on."
    "Thank you, Lothanasa."
    The warrior-woman turned and left, her gait firm and sure. How much she 
had matured, Raven thought, from the mischievous boy who had danced across 
the ramparts with visions of battle in his head!
    Leaning back in her chair, Raven sighed. Daria was too young to remember 
much from the Battle of Three Gates -- and, in any event, all of the children 
had been hidden in the catacombs below the Keep hours before that battle 
began. The boys and girls at Metamor now would remember all too clearly what 
battle was really like. The shouts and screams, the blood, the fire and smoke 
as the town was ransacked, the evil stink of death ... no, these children 
would not dream of the glories of battle. Combat was not a dream, but a 
nightmare, and the young innocents who survived would be plagued by its 
demons for years to come. Raven knew that from painful experience.
    She had just turned twenty-one when Nasoj arrived with his army, storming 
down through the valley in his first attempt at conquest. At that time the 
Lightbringers had been strong at Metamor: her father, Elric, had been 
Lothanas, and there were four other priests and priestesses at the Keep 
alone. Raven had been the youngest, working primarily as a healer near the 
front lines of the battle; her brother Aramis was working in a similar role, 
while her father, mother and sister remained back at the Temple and tended to 
the wounded.
    Or, at least, that had been the plan. In the heat of battle, it was 
difficult for her to stay aware of all that was going on -- though when a 
Balrog crashed through the walls of the Outer Keep, pretty much everyone 
stopped to take notice. Although it was technically a "lesser" daedra, the 
battle-master struck terror into all who saw it: two thousand pounds of 
rock-hard muscle and bone, virtually immune to physical attack, the Balrog 
was Lord Revonos's most fearsome servant.
    Raven knew, when she saw her father emerge to face that creature, that it 
would almost certainly mean his death. Elric was carrying Elemacil, the Holy 
Sword of Metamor -- one of the only weapons on Earth that could harm such a 
beast. The Balrog sneered at him, mocking his courage, but Elric strode 
forward with strength and dignity that belied his age.
    The battle was intense and savage, as Elric gave the Balrog far more than 
it had bargained for. The power of Dokorath himself flowed through Elric's 
limbs, matching the daedra's brute strength with speed and agility that 
seemed unreal for a man in his fifties. Even with divine assistance, though, 
it was not a sure victory by any means, and soon both fighters were battered 
and bloody.
    In the end, Elric summoned all of his power to imprison and banish the 
weakened daedra, punching a hole in the ether with sheer force of will and 
pushing the Balrog through. It was a phenomenal task, one that required 
extreme amounts of energy to accomplish -- Lightbringers never even attempted 
such a feat without divine backing. Elric, though, did it on his own ... and 
drained himself so much that he collapsed, unconscious.
    He died a few days later, his body giving out from the strain. By that 
time, the Temple had been washed clean of the blood of Raven's mother, 
brother and sister, not to mention countless acolytes -- the work of some 
unholy butcher who had managed to slip through the Temple's defenses. Raven 
was at her father's side as he lay on his own deathbed, and before the 
darkness claimed him he weakly picked up Elemacil and placed it in her hands.
    "The battle is yours now, Karenna," he told her, addressing her by her 
childhood name. "Metamor needs a protector, and that task now falls to you. 
Be brave. Be strong. Raise up others in our ways. Walk in the light ... 
    And then he was gone. And Raven, for the first time in her life, was 
    Fresh tears rolled down Raven's cheeks at the memory, as she stared 
unseeing at the walls of her office. She had done as her father said. She had 
been brave. She had been strong. She had raised up Merai in the ways of the 
Lothanasi. She walked in the light, even when it seemed that more than half 
of the High Council was steeped in some kind of hidden darkness. And now the 
man who killed her family seven and a half years ago had come back to try to 
finish the job.
    A soft, high-pitched whine sounded beside her, stirring Raven out of her 
reverie. She looked down to see Wanderer nosing the palm of her hand, his 
ears back against his head and his tail wagging submissively. His expression 
of concern was obvious.
    With a sad, silent laugh, Raven scratched behind his ears, stroking his 
head consolingly. He whined again, sticking out the tip of his tongue in 
another submissive gesture. Then, much to the priestess's surprise, he put 
his front paws up on her lap and nosed at her face.
    "Agh!" Raven cried, pulling away from him as she pushed at his nose. 
    Abruptly, the wolf stopped, drawing his head back and staring at her. 
Raven looked back, puzzled at his sudden change in behavior. His yellow eyes 
gazed alertly into her own blue ones, canine submission suddenly replaced 
with ... something else.
    Tentatively, Raven sent a mental probe towards him, projecting a tendril 
of consciousness into the wolf's mind. On the outer edges, she saw the 
chaotic thoughts of an animal swirling like a maelstrom -- unconscious, 
without direction, more instinct than real cognition. But in the center, 
desperately trying to hold itself together, was something more ... structured.
    "Wand'rer?" Raven whispered. "Charles? Are you in there?"
    Slowly, the wolf lifted one paw. Then, carefully, gently, he reached up...
    And touched her cheek.
    Raven stayed utterly motionless, hardly daring to breathe, as Wanderer 
awkwardly held the rough pads of his foot to the place where the tears had 
run down her face. Then, he shifted his gaze to that paw, his expression of 
concern changing to one of confusion and anxiety. Slowly, he lowered the paw 
and placed his head on her lap, whining softly.
    Raven closed her eyes and let out a long, defeated sigh. She ran her hand 
over his head and shoulders, tears once again rolling down her face.
    "Wand'rer," she murmured, shaking her head sadly. "Why? Why did you do 
this to yourself?"
    "Because Christopher is his friend."
    Raven looked up, startled at the intrusion. Lurene stood leaning against 
the doorframe, arms folded and legs crossed, her eyes fixed on the priestess 
and the former poet. Her expression was neutral, but her gray eyes shone 
    The Lothanasa glared at her, lupine ears flattening against her head. 
"And what was I?" she demanded, her voice like ice. "If he does _this_ to 
himself for a friend, what was I, Lurene?!"
The younger woman didn't flinch. "I don't know, Raven. What were you?"
    Raven blinked. It took her a moment to find her voice. "What are you 
talking about? I love him!"
    "Did you ever tell him that?"
    "He knew!"
    "Did you ever show him?"
    The priestess sputtered for a moment. "I -- well -- I was at least as 
close as Christopher!" she protested.
    "Were you?" Lurene pressed, her voice firm but totally devoid of any 
mocking tone. "I never saw you break fast with them, or show up to one of his 
performances. Are you _sure_ that he knew you loved him?"
Raven swallowed uncomfortably, blinking back angry tears. "He knew," she 
insisted quietly, looking down. "It was just ... so hard for me to say it. 
Everyone I ever loved ... my family ... they were all dead. _All_ of them, 
Lurene. And then Charles came, and..." She fell silent for a moment, running 
her fingers through the wolf's fur.
    "He made me care about life again," she said, her voice soft. "He showed 
me how to find joy in the world around me -- that my family's death didn't 
have to mean death for me." She looked back up at Lurene. "He was a pillar of 
strength when I needed it most."
    "But did he know that?" Lurene asked. "Did he know how much you depended 
on him -- on his strength, his love? Did you tell him?"
    Slowly, Raven shook her head. "No."
    "And that," the younger woman said gently, "is why he did this." She came 
closer, putting her hands on Raven's desk. "You were always trying to be 
strong, Raven. You had everyone convinced that you could handle anything. 
Maybe you had to be that way -- maybe that kind of confidence is part of 
being the Lothanasa. But you never showed Wand'rer the truth, did you? He may 
have known you loved him, but he didn't know that you _needed_ him. As far as 
he knew, you were strong enough to stand on your own. But Chris -- Chris 
needed him. To Wand'rer's mind, Chris had a problem that he could never solve 
on his own. He needed Wand'rer's help. And like any loyal member of the pack, 
Wanderer sacrificed himself to help the one who needed him."
"And let the strong one stand on her own," Raven murmured, her eyes distant.
    "Aye," Lurene agreed. "I'm sure it would have torn him apart, had he 
known that he would be forced to choose between you. But Christopher's need 
gave him more impetus to risk his life than you gave him to try to preserve 
    Again, Raven looked down at the wolf, his body still draped over her lap. 
"It is still tearing him apart," she said quietly. "He is still in there, 
Lurene. Somewhere." She shook her head. "Why can he not come out?"
    Lurene straightened, backing away from the desk a little. "Who can say?" 
she said, shrugging sadly. "Perhaps, on some level, he's waiting." She turned 
and began walking toward the door.
    "Waiting?" Raven asked, calling after her.
    Lurene stopped and looked back over her shoulder.
    "Waiting for someone to need him."
    With that she left, shutting the door with a soft click. In the silence 
that followed, Raven wrapped her arms around the wolf, pressing her face 
against the scruff of his neck, and quietly wept.


 End part 50

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