[Vfw-times] MK Winter assault part 53

COkane8116 at aol.com COkane8116 at aol.com
Tue Nov 13 01:53:57 CST 2001

 Part 53! Things CAN get worse.


When I finally found them, the skunk and raccoon were at a table  together, 
bent over a simple meal and talking softly to each other. I saw that they 
were splitting a loaf of rye bread, the skunk placing small pieces of  it in 
her muzzle and slowly eating as Rickkter whispered near her ear. The rats, 
Julian, Elliot and Goldmark, everyone from the cellars, stopped a few feet 
from the table, waiting for the eating couple to notice us. I had to clear my 
throat to make them look up.
"I was wondering what had happened to you, Rick," I told him, softly smiling. 
"Who is this?"
"Ah, yes. I'm sorry about dropping you guys like that." He ran his muzzle 
along the skunk's head in a quick nuzzle. "Just that some things are more 
important to me." He returned his attention us. "That and the Lightbringer 
wanted to have a few words with me. She told me to tell you that she wants to 
talk to you about those soul stones we found in the labyrinth as well. She's 
quite intent on knowing their exact location. But where are my manners?" He 
straightened up and gestured to the skunk beside him using a piece of bread. 
"Everyone, this is Kayla, my love. Kayla, this is Julian, Elliot and 
Goldmark," he continued, pointing out the white rat, grey one, and black rat. 
"And lastly, that is Jacob Alton." Rick paused, looking at me for a long 
moment, I couldn't tell if was respect or a slight dejection. "We met in 
town. He was the one who kept me from  freezing out there and helped me back 
to the Keep were we ran into the others."
Kayla turned up and looked at me with a pair of wide eyes, studying me with 
an intensity I had  never had directed towards me before. Never one for such 
critical examinations, I was the first to break eye contact and dropped my 
gaze from her's. "You saved his life?" asked the skunk eventually.
I folded his ears back and nodded once. It didn't understand why she was 
looking at me like I was a hero. I would never claim to be one nor should I 
"Thank you." She looked over at Rick and smile before returning her gaze to 
me. The way her eyes were lit up, such vivid blue against the deep black of 
her fur, I could see some of the beauty that that crazed raccoon found in 
her. "From the bottom of my heart, thank you. I am deeply in you debt for 
"Really, it was nothing. He saved my life before that, and I returned the 
favour like any good person should."
"Maybe to him." She squeezed the paw of her raccoon tighter. "But you still 
brought him back to me. That's something I can't forget."
"Um, well, yes." I reached up and scratched at the back of my head at an 
imaginary itch. 
"I was just honoured of the experience and to have a captivated audience for 
one of my stories." Nervously I looked around, uncomfortable by the 
situation. "I must go. If the Lightbringer wants to see me, I guess I had 
best go now."
Rick nodded and turned to the rats. "Why don't you guys grab something to 
eat, join us?" Their squeaks ascended as I turned and went off.
My throat had gone quite dry as I made my way past the people in the temple. 
The high priestess herself wants to see me! True that I had seen her many 
times already around the Keep since the attack, but never had I actually had 
the chance to speak with her. I was not a believer of the religion or of any 
but I do remember the small kindness she gave me when we were children. I 
still carry the gold in my pocket and in my heart. But my love is for 
Christina Fields, she warms my heart with the aura of love. The Lightbringer 
brings a warm smile to my face, nothing more.
I had seen Raven enough over the years, at public gatherings, celebrations, 
and even on occasion walking the walls of the Keep that she seemed more like 
a friendly, familiar figure and not a holy woman respected from a distance, 
but I was still nervous. She often had that flighty wolf minstrel with her, 
but I never paid him much heed at all. Besides, now it was just me and her 
and a million thanks for a simple gesture on her part.
Raven was at her desk when I nudged open the door and announced myself. She 
gave me just about the most charming smile I have ever been the recipient of. 
No teeth, of course, just a very pleasant drawing up of her lips and righting 
of her ears. Ah, like silvered temples those ears, I could write poems about 
them for years.
"Please, have a seat, Jacob. There are a few things I'd like to ask you 
"Certainly," I replied, slipping my tail through the gracious hole in the 
back of the proffered chair. "What would you like to know?"
"I'll keep this simple. What I want to know about are the soul gems; 
specifically their location. Could you find them again if I wanted you to?"
"Certainly!" I said, my whole body -- from my tail to the tips of my ears - 
perking up. "I know exactly where they are located."
"Excellent. That's good to hear Jacob. From what I heard, you were down in 
those tunnels for several hours. Not many people could remember their way 
like that. When this is all over, you'll have to take my acolytes and me to 
find them."
I suddenly recalled a fantasy that I've had about Raven for years; that one 
day I would be at The Tavern's Hearth, treating myself to a decent meal in 
celebration of having sold one of my manuscripts when *she* would come in. 
Sometimes there was a reason ? like The Tavern was
full ? and sometimes there wasn't, but in the end she would end up coming 
over to my table and asking if she could share it. And, with no hint of 
nervousness or trepidation, I would agree. And we'd have a good dinner, and I 
would make witty conversation, and sometimes we'd go walk the streets 
together in friendly banter, and sometimes not. But the end result was always 
my walking away having made some sort of positive impression upon her. But 
those are a poor man's dreams.
Sitting there, staring at her across her large, ornate, cluttered desk, I 
asked myself if this could be more than a friendship? Am I lying to myself 
because of a distaste to the Lightbringers and her affinity to that. No, it 
was more than an affinity, this was her life, and her calling. What could I 
convey that could flatter this woman of intrigue and mystery. My bushy, black 
tail sank to the floor. No matter how much I might want to, to try and 
impress her, I could not lie to her. Not when she was counting on me that 
"Well... that's not quite what I meant. If I were on the bridge once more, 
then I could find them easily enough. As for the tunnels... the best I could 
do is follow my own scent trail down. Which would quite possibly lead us in 
circles for a few hours before reaching the bridge once more. If you wanted 
to navigate those tunnels, perhaps you should ask one of the rats. They... 
they've more experience with the tunnels than I do, I fear."
Raven wuffed a sigh, turning her head away from me. She only looked down at a 
patch of her chamber's floor. "Did you... did you happen to bring any of the 
gems back with you? Did you take any besides the one you gave Rick to 
In dejection I hung my head, giving it a slight shake. "No, ma'am. I had a 
second one picked up, but dropped it back when I learned what it was. I  had 
heard they were things of the Daedra and not to be trifled with."
Raven nodded sadly at that what I said, not seeming to pay too much 
attention. Silence filled the room after I had stopped speaking, but I 
couldn't bring myself to do anything to fill it. Eventually she turned her 
gaze from the floor to the ceiling beams and rubbed her chin in thought.
"Well... they may just have a chance now," she muttered softly to  herself.     
Her smile looked a bit forced as her gaze returned to me. "Thank you for your 
help, Jacob. I'll be sure to speak with one of the rats in regards to 
following the tunnels. As for the soul gems, you made the right choice. It' s 
not something mortals should trifle with. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to 
try and work on some new strategies to use against the insurgents." She gave 
me that wooden smile again.
I stuttered at her, my jaw not quite working right. "Of... of course," I 
finally managed to get out. "Thank you for your time." With that, I got up 
and walked towards the door when I turned to look at her, I wouldn't waste an 
opportunity like this. 
"I remember you when I was a child. I was a trickster in the street, more 
begging than labouring for money when you passed by me. You were a beautiful 
girl in those days, not that you aren't now, but you were kinder to me on 
that one day than fate had ever been in my whole life." I reached into my 
pocket and pulled the gold coin. "I could never spend it, even when I was 
laying in the street, even when I was crying for food. For some reason, I 
could never part with it."
Her jaw slightly dropped when I showed it to her. Inside, I wondered if I 
sparked a recollection of a memory. She stood silent and I stuttered one more 
"I am a poor scoundrel who is just trying to fool another who has much more 
than I."
I turned and left the Lightbringer's chamber. I made my way through the main 
hall without really seeing anyone in it, my thick black tail seeking refuge 
between my legs. It was just about the worst. How could I have EVER thought 
that a woman like that would want anything to do with a mangy animal like me. 
I grit my teeth tightly together, my lips and whiskers drawing up in a snarl. 
The truth hurts when it comes crashing in fiery embers all around you. 
What a moron I am to try and be more than what fate intended for me!



    Daria let out a long sigh, trying to ignore the pain in her side and the 
chill of the stone floor against her back. Merai was working her hands slowly 
over the warrior's ribcage, using a Lightbringer healing technique to shift 
the broken bones back into place and fuse them together again. It was a 
wonderful tool when rapid recovery was needed, but it did nothing for the 
pain inflicted by jagged shards of bone pushing their way through her chest 
cavity to their rightful places.
    "How much longer?" she asked through gritted teeth.
    "A few minutes more." Merai smiled at her friend's expression. "Well, you 
don't want me puncturing a lung or something, do you?"
    "No, thank you."
    Garulf sat beside them on the floor of the temple hall, watching 
impassively as Caitlyn examined his arms for broken bones.
    Daria's mother pressed down gently on one spot just below the bear's 
elbow. "Does that hurt?"
    Another spot. "What about here?"
    The girl sighed, shaking her head. "Well, your skin must be black and 
blue everywhere, but I can feel no breaks. Count yourself lucky."
    The bear grinned. "Thank the gods for chain mail."
    "And the fact that there weren't many archers," Daria added wryly.
    The door to the Lightbringer's chambers opened, and Raven stepped out 
into the temple hall. Taking a look around the room at the healers, acolytes 
and wounded soldiers present, she approached Daria with a questioning gaze.
    "Don't move," Merai cautioned, as her friend made eye contact with the 
wolfen priestess. Daria nodded in acknowledgement, laying her head back down 
on the floor and trying to relax. A particularly large piece of bone had just 
started shifting...
    "Lothanasa," she said in greeting.
    "Squire," Raven replied with a nod. "How was your latest battle?"
    "The hardest we've seen, Mistress," Daria said, gritting her teeth as the 
migrant bone shard worked its way past her lung. "Between the explosion from 
the trebuchet magazine and the battle that followed, I estimate seventy to a 
hundred enemy casualties." Her face fell. "But we lost Private Morel."
    Raven closed her eyes and nodded, her expression sorrowful. "I am sorry 
to hear that. I counseled Morel for a time after his husband's death. He was 
a good man."
    "Aye." Daria frowned. "There's something else, as well, Lightbringer. 
During the battle, the Key ... did not work as it should."
    Raven cast a sidelong glance at Caitlyn, apparently debating whether they 
should be having this conversation in front of her. Daria's mother, after 
all, had no idea of the Key's nature.
    "Let me see it," she said at last. Daria looked at Merai, who paused, 
then nodded once. Carefully, the warrior woman removed the necklace and held 
it up for Raven to take, being careful not to move her chest in doing so.
    The priestess studied the Key closely, doubtless examining its aura as 
well as its physical appearance. "I see nothing wrong with the Key itself," 
she said.
    "There isn't anything wrong with the Key itself," said a voice on the far 
side of the room. "There's something wrong with the Keep."
    For an instant, Daria saw Raven's ears flatten, the corner of her muzzle 
twitching in agitation. Then she composed herself and turned to face the man 
walking towards them. "Hello, Rickkter."
    "Hello, Lightbringer," he said, in the pleasant sort of voice that the 
proverbial Mongoose might use with the Cobra if they were to meet by chance 
at a royal banquet. "I really must thank you for your acolytes' hospitality 
in welcoming me into your temple."
    "Our house is open to all Keepers," Raven replied smoothly.
    "Rickkter helped save our lives in that battle," Daria put in, anxious to 
defuse this sudden tension between her benefactors. "If not for him, we all 
likely would have been killed."
    The Lightbringer looked at her for a moment, her expression unreadable, 
before turning back to the raccoon. "I am not surprised," she said. "Rickkter 
is one of the best warriors in all of Metamor. Thank you for your help."
    Rickkter crossed his arms over his chest in an "X" shape, fists clenched, 
and bowed slightly. "I live to serve," he said -- his voice, at least, 
totally sincere.
    "I believe you were saying that there is something wrong with the Keep?" 
Raven prompted.
    "Aye. To all appearances, something -- or someone -- is interfering with 
Metamor's variable geometry."
    Raven raised one eyebrow, her ears pricking forward. "Any idea what that 
could be?" she asked speculatively.
    The raccoon shrugged. "Why don't you ask her?"
    Slowly, a small smile crept on the wolf-woman's face. "Merai?"
    "Aye, Sister Raven?"
    "See to it that I'm not disturbed."
    "Of course."
    Without another word, Raven turned and strode quietly back into her 
chambers, shutting the door behind her.


    Once inside her bedroom, Raven cast her eyes up at the ceiling.
    "What's going on, Kyia?"
    Reaching out to the aura of the Keep all around her, Raven immediately 
sensed an undercurrent of frustration. And beneath it, something like ... 
    "Black magic," Kyia said bitterly. "They have cast an enchantment at my 
gates, cutting me off from sections of the Keep." She paused, and when her 
voice came back it was softer, filled with a quiet terror. "Raven ... I can't 
feel those parts of the Keep anymore. They are like ... like dead limbs on my 
    Raven clenched her fists. "Who would dare to do such a thing?" she 
growled, righteous indignation springing up within her. It was one thing for 
the wizard to attack the human occupants of the Keep; but to attack Metamor 
herself, to assault a being who may well have existed since the very dawn of 
    "This was Ba'al's doing," Kyia spat. "His chosen servants have entered my 
house and desecrated it."
    The priestess looked up in alarm. "What do you mean, Ba'al's servants?"
    "You know what I mean," the nymph replied. "Moranasi."
    "Moranasi," Raven breathed. She shook her head, hardly believing what she 
was hearing. Moranasi -- "Shadow Bringers". The secret order of mages created 
by Ba'al as a perverted reflection of the Lothanasi. Their kind had not been 
seen in centuries -- and yet they were here, now. And they were working with 
Nasoj to destroy Metamor.
    "How many?" the wolf-woman asked.
    "Two masters, four apprentices," Kyia said. "With the one master being 
greater than the other."
"A full circle." She let out a ragged sigh. "Where are they now?"
    "I do not know. They are within the area that has been lost to me." The 
nymph paused, sounding thoughtful. "They appeared again within my senses a 
short time ago, but soon after that area, too, went dark."
    "They must be expanding the spell through the Keep," Raven mused.
    "Aye. They tried to isolate Daria and her friends, but I fought the 
effects long enough for them to escape ... though only just."
    The priestess nodded, frowning, and turned to look out the window. The 
storm was still going strong. "We will have to seek the gods' help in this, 
of course."
    The Keep's aura changed subtly, as if to imply that Kyia found the 
suggestion distasteful. "Do what you must," she said at last.
    Raven glanced up at the ceiling. "Always," she murmured.


    The door to Raven's chambers opened again, and the Lightbringer strode 
forth with a look of iron determination on her face. Merai had just finished 
healing Daria's ribs, and the redhead swiftly rose to attention.
    "Squire, I have a new assignment for you," Raven said.
    In a few minutes, Raven had outlined the threat described by Kyia -- a 
circle of six dark mages called the Moranasi. "How soon will your team be 
ready for action again?" she asked.
    Daria looked around at the other members of her squad. All of their 
physical injuries had been healed, but they were exhausted from a long day of 
fighting -- to say nothing of their mad dash to escape the lutins a few hours 
ago. "We should be ready tomorrow morning, Mistress," she said at last. "I 
dare not try anything further tonight."
    "Agreed," Raven said. "Tomorrow morning, then, I want you to send out 
your best scouts. Find these Moranasi and report back immediately."
    "Aye-aye, ma'am." Daria turned to her comrades. "Rest well tonight, 
people. In the morning we're going hunting for shadows."

End part 53
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