[Vfw-times] Mk Winter Assault part 51

COkane8116 at aol.com COkane8116 at aol.com
Fri Nov 9 00:13:41 CST 2001

    "How accurate is that thing?"
    Daria shrugged. "As accurate as we need it to be. Most of the main rooms 
don't change position overmuch, at least on the first floor -- 'tis the 
corridors around them that shift the most."
    Morel looked at the rough map skeptically, but nodded. "What did you have 
in mind for our next target?"
    The woman smirked. "I'm open to suggestions."
    "Something bigger," Garulf said, pointing a thick, furry finger at the 
map. "This storage magazine for the southward trebuchet battery. There are at 
least a dozen kegs of dragon dust inside, and a few dozen explosive loads."
    Brennar stared aghast at the bear-morph. "You want to blow up the 
castle?!" he cried.
    "It wouldn't blow up the castle," Morel assured him, putting a comforting 
hand on the feline's shoulder.
    "But it would raise hell in the enemy camp," Daria said, gesturing at a 
set of markers on the map. "Look here -- that makeshift barracks the scouts 
found this morning is right next to it. If we hit the dust reserves in that 
magazine, the explosion should blow out this door -- here -- and blast 
straight through the middle of the barracks room."
    "Exactly," Garulf rumbled. "If it does enough damage, we may even be able 
to eliminate the survivors before we escape."
    "Wait a minute," Weyden said, lifting one feathered arm. "How do we 
protect ourselves from the explosion?"
    Starling spoke up, projecting an image of the map with a series of blue 
X's lining the walls outside the enemy barracks. There was an additional X in 
a small passageway next to the magazine. Then the passageway closed, the 
magazine flashed red and yellow, and the other X's entered the barracks 
through passages in the walls.
    "Good idea, Starling," Daria said. "I'll enter the magazine using the Key 
and lay down a few trails of dust as fuses. Starling, I shall need you to 
light them before we close the passage behind us."
    The dragonette nodded.
    "After the blast, the rest of you will storm the barracks and kill any 
survivors. I'll guard our escape route and make certain the battle doesn't 
turn against us. If things seem to be going badly, I'll call for a retreat."
    "How will we get into the barracks if you have the Key?" Brennar asked. 
    "I don't have to be with you for the Keep to open the passageways," Daria 
reminded him. "Remember the battle at the armory -- all I need is to be able 
to visualize the corridors that need to be formed. I know this part of the 
Keep well, so it should not be difficult."
    Morel ran a hand over his chin stubble thoughtfully. In the end, he 
nodded. "Looks good. How many troops were there in the barracks when the 
scouts came through?"
    "They counted around three dozen. Depending on the hour, of course, there 
could be more or less."
    "Chancy, but worth it," Bradfox said. "Nobody ever won a war by playing 
it safe."
    "Agreed," Daria said. "What about the rest of you? Are you with us?"
    She extended her arm toward the center of their circle, palm facing 
upward. Garulf placed his hand over hers immediately. They were swiftly 
joined by Bradfox and Weyden. Brennar looked nervous about the whole idea, 
but followed suit when Morel and Starling put their own hands in. Jessica 
came last, putting her wing carefully atop the stack of arms.
    "We're with you, Squire," she said firmly. "Anywhere you lead."
    They broke the circle and rose to their feet, as Daria opened a passage 
out of the small stone room where they had held their meeting.
    "Let's go then, all," she said, starting off down the corridor. "We've a 
fireworks show to put on."


   Misha fell down in the chair behind his desk, the wood groaning under the 
strain. With detached disinterest he noticed that the clock that hung 
opposite the desk had stopped. He didn't care. For the Fox time had lost 
meaning. He had no idea if it was day or night, morning or afternoon. All 
that mattered was the fight. All that he cared about was defeating the 
monsters that now infested his home.

   Outside his office he could hear the sounds of people talking, moving and 
some laughing and others crying. Even though the thick door was closed he 
could still hear them, muted to a dull, background buzz. It reminded Misha 
that there was more for him to do then kill. He had to save lives, that's 
what matter most.

   He was supposed to be here coming up with his next move but it was hard to 
concentrate on planning. So much had happened; Andre and Rickkter were 
missing, Charles had taken off with little more then a note. Everyone he knew 
seemed to be dead, wounded or missing.

Perched on the desk within arms reach was a bottle of wine, half empty. The 
missing portion had been drunk by him and Caroline during the party. That 
happy moment had seemed so many years ago. Was it really just two days ago?

   Misha's ears perked up suddenly but not at some noise. What had caught his 
attention was the sudden silence. Gone was the background buzz of the people 
outside in the hall. He was halfway to the door when it opened and Caroline 
stuck her head in.

   "Misha . . ." was all she said before the fox rushed past her and into the 
hall beyond.

   Outside he found Long house wreathed in silence and full of people all as 
still as statues and all staring at one point. As Misha moved forward the 
crowd parted in front of him like waves parted by the bow of a ship revealing 
a lone person standing just inside the entrance to the Hall.

   The bedraggled figure was covered in thick, black and white fur and had 
once been wearing brown cloth. Now the cloths was gone replaced by tattered, 
charred remains that hung over fur that was singed and charred to a dull 
ashen gray. The once luxurious tail was now a thin burnt remnant. The 
blackened person was carrying a large blackened thing in both arms. With a 
bolt of horror he realized that the thing had arms, legs and a tail. It was 
the corpse of a Keeper burnt beyond recognition. The stench of burnt flesh 
and death filled the air, clogging his nose like a poison gas.

George appeared out of the crowd carrying a large blanket. "I'll take her 
Muri," the jackal said in a surprisingly soft voice.

   Muri! If the person was Muri that meant the corpse was Llyns. Horror, pain 
and shock swept through the fox and he rushed up to the skunk.

   He looked at Muri and found the skunk staring back at him with eyes that 
were sullen, sunken and empty of life. Muri made no comment or movement as 
George wrapped the blackened corpse of the Skunks lover in the blanket. 
Suddenly they were surrounded by people. Misha watched as Caroline took the 
foot of the wrapped corpse as Arla, Kershaw and Jotham tenderly helped 
George's burden. Meredith wrapped an arm around the nonmoving skunk.

   A wild, animal scream erupted suddenly from the skunks muzzle that seemed 
to erupt from the deepest pit of hell. There was dangerous fire in Muri's 
eyes that made a shiver run down the fox's back. Gone was the light of warmth 
and intelligence. Replaced by the flames of a wild demon; a blood soaked 
muderous killing machine with but one thought - killing. With one blackened 
hand the skunk removed Meredith's paw from his shoulder. Then he turned 
around and silently stalked toward the door.

    "Muri . . ." Meredith said as he reached out but Misha's hand stopped him.

   "Leave him be," the fox ordered. Then he turned to the blanket wrapped 
corpse. Without looking he pointed to a small door on one wall. "Take her in 
there. We'll give her a proper ceremony when we can."

   Misha spun about and fled into his office with Caroline close behind. He 
just collapsed onto the floor near his desk and started crying. The otter 
came and sat down next to him and rest his head on her lap. Together they 
cried and mourned the loss of a friend.


Rickkter called them up short when he saw the body. Certainly the Lutin was 
dead, there was no doubt about that. Still, the raccoon insisted on going in 
prepared, his sword poised to bring down anything that might move as he 
silently made his way forward. Jacob, Julian,  Hector, and Elliot chose to 
stay back. Only Goldmark was brave enough, or crazy enough, to follow 
Rickkter. Jacob's curiosity was piqued, however, when he saw Rickkter reach 
the centre of the intersection, straighten up, and openly gape at one of the 
halls leading off. Goldmark's reaction was a little more subdued - his small 
ears went back and whiskers twitched faster as he surveyed whatever was in 
the hall - but equally as captivating as Rickkter's. That did it and Jacob 
had to go see for himself. The other two rats followed in his wake.
When he finally reached the spot and saw the destruction that lined the hall, 
he had no trouble understanding the stunned look on the other's faces. There 
were few bodies in the hall. Most of them were in pieces, those pieces being 
charred and scattered all over the place. In fact, most everything was 
charred and burned, but done so in lines and patterns. Carpets and once grand 
tapestries were scored over with burns, and various objects d'art that lined 
the walls - including statues of notable individuals in the history of 
Metamor valley - were lying in heaps of scrap, apparently blasted apart. For 
as far as any of them could see up the hall the destruction extended.
Hector was the first to break the silence. "What caused this?" he whispered.
"Magic," Rickkter replied. "More magic than I've seen used in this manner in 
a very long time." He started up the hall, gesturing with his sword as he 
went. "You can tell from the marks that it was lightening. This whole 
corridor must have been alive with it." He gingerly stepped over a torched 
body that had armour melted to the bones. "Ambassador Yonson's the only mage 
here who would favour this kind of attack. Whatever these guys did, it must 
have really pissed him off."
"Remind me never to get on the ambassador's bad side," Julian mumbled as he 
gazed over at a life sized marble statue that had been blown in half by a 
single strike to its centre. He reached up and pulled his tunic tighter about 
his neck. The other rodents instinctively clustered around Rickkter and 
Jacob, all but the mage shooting furtive glances along the devastated 
"What worries me about all this, though, is that we're seeing it at all. Kyia 
should have given us a much shorter route to the temple."
Jacob's ears flicked about in anxiety. "So why are we out here?"
As if in answer to his question, the sounds of battle poured in from one of 
the side hallways. It was like someone had opened a door for them, but it was 
nothing more than the Keep's variable geometry.
"My guess would be that," said Rickkter as he headed off towards the battle, 
his sword drawn. Jacob and the rats elected to play rear guard for the crazy 


    Starling poked her head into the storeroom, scanning the space below her 
for any sign of enemy soldiers. The room was apparently deserted, though, 
which made the dragonette relax a little.
    Flitting out of the small alcove the Key had made for her, up near the 
ceiling of the room, she carefully checked around all of the boxes and 
shelves that filled the long, narrow chamber. Peering under the room's single 
door, she saw no sign of anyone standing on the other side. That was good; 
there would be less chance of someone hearing them.
    Satisfied, Starling flew back up to the alcove and peered down at Daria, 
who stood waiting in the passageway below. The dragonette nodded, and the 
redheaded human nodded back, reaching up to clasp her hand around the Key. A 
moment later a door appeared, connecting the corridor to the storeroom, and 
Daria opened it carefully. Fortunately the door hinges were well-oiled, and 
it did not make a sound.
Starling watched as Daria moved silently through the room, making note of the 
large wooden kegs that lined the wall opposite the door, as well as the racks 
of smaller cylinders that served as explosive loads for the trebuchets. 
Smiling tightly, the woman began piling those loads in front of the wooden 
door, being careful not to make a sound in doing so.
    Once she had a good number of the explosive casks in place, she took 
another one and opened the plug at one end. As she tilted the hole towards 
her hand, Starling saw a mixture of black powder and small metal beads spill 
out. Smiling again in grim satisfaction, Daria crouched on the floor and 
began pouring the deadly mixture over and around the pile of ammunition.
    Once the pile had been covered to her liking, the human warrior began 
laying a trail of dragon dust from the loads to the large storage kegs on the 
opposite side of the room. She then drew connecting trails between the kegs 
themselves. Taking a dagger from her boot, Daria bored small holes in the 
side of each of the barrels, letting the dust begin leaking out to add to the 
trails she had drawn.
    Finally, using the last of the dust in her deadly little cask, Daria drew 
a thin line from the nearest of the storage kegs to a spot just a few feet in 
front of the passageway through which they had entered the room. Looking up, 
she beckoned to Starling; obediently, the dragonette flew down from her 
perch, then turned to see that her little alcove had disappeared.
Starling flew alongside Daria back into the passageway, until they were a 
good five or six feet inside. The redhead grasped the Key again, took a deep 
breath, and nodded to Starling. Crouching, taking careful aim, the dragonette 
breathed out a long plume of fire. The flames licked against the little pile 
of dragon dust at the end of the fuse, and the black powder lit with a flash.
    Immediately, a wall of stone closed up before them, filling the entire 
space they had left between themselves and the doorway. Just to be safe, they 
quickly turned and began moving down the passageway.
    Twenty seconds later the walls shook with a thunderous explosion.


    "Nervous, Brennar?"
    The cat-morph looked up at Private Morel and nodded, his green eyes 
    Morel smiled kindly. "Can't say I blame you. War is hard on a man. No one 
should really enjoy it." He held up his sword, examining it for any sign of 
weakness. For a lutin-made weapon, it was holding up well. "That battle for 
the armory -- was that your first time in combat?"
    "Aye," Brennar said, nodding again. "I mean, I'd fought in training 
sessions before, but nothing like this. Nothing real."
    "Aye, 'tis quite different when your Enemy is actually bent on killing 
you," Morel agreed with a lopsided grin. "You did all right, though."
    Brennar smiled a little. "Thank you, sir."
    "Now, don't go calling me 'sir', there, Brennar!" the man scolded 
playfully. "I'm a footman, and proud of it! Save 'sir' for the officers, 
    The cat grinned. "Aye, aye, Private."
    Morel chuckled. " 'Private'. Gods, that sounds odd. Do you know what I do 
for a living, Brennar?"
"No, what?"
    "I'm a cook. Work in Donny's kitchen at the Mule, have for the last ... 
thirty-two years, methinks. Never handled a sword in my life until after the 
Battle of Three Gates."
    The tomcat's ears perked up. "A cook? What made you decide to join the 
    Morel's lip twitched. "My husband was killed during the battle."
    Brennar winced. "I'm sorry."
    "Not your fault," the graying man replied with a small shrug, a faint 
expression of sadness on his well-worn face. "William was a soldier. Soldiers 
die. We bury them, we mourn, and then we move on. With Nasoj to the north of 
us, we have no choice."
    "So you joined the army in his place?"
    Morel nodded. "At first, I thought I'd make Will's killers pay for his 
death." He chuckled softly. "Jack gave me a good working over, though. Showed 
me that we can't do what we do for personal revenge -- it clouds the head, 
you won't think straight."
    Brennar nodded sadly. "I understand." Images of Captain Farmer flickered 
briefly through his mind. He hoped that Amanda's father was still alive, but 
something inside him told him that it wasn't likely. He wished that he could 
somehow make sure that the captain was all right, if only for Amanda's sake. 
But Private Morel was right: they had a job to do here, now, and it would 
only hurt them if he let things get too personal.
    The old private chucked Brennar on the chin. "Hey, eyes front, mate," he 
said, smiling again. "We'll make it through this, you'll see.  Say, you're a 
baker, aren't you, Brennar?  Have you ever made a Yule Pie?"
Brennar shook his head, frowning at the abrupt change of subject. He wondered 
if maybe Morel was secretly just as nervous as he was. "Never heard of it."
    Morel clucked his tongue. "Pity. 'Tis a meal in itself -- meat, potatoes, 
carrots, celery, onions and peas, all within a pastry crust.  The perfect 
dish to warm old bones on a winter's night!"
    The tomcat scratched his head, puzzled. "It sounds like awful trouble to 
get all those vegetables in the winter."
    "Aye, they have to be properly preserved at harvest-time if you're to 
make them for Yule. As it happens, we have a pantry at the mule with an 
excellent preservation spell. When this is all over, how would you like to 
help me make the greatest Yule Pie that Metamor has ever seen?"
    Brennar grinned. "Sounds like fun! I have the perfect recipe for the 
crust, too..."
    The muffled sound of an explosion on the far side of the wall abruptly 
cut short the conversation.
    "That's our cue," Morel whispered, rather unnecessarily. "Stand ready..."


   End part 51
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