[Vfw-times] MK Winter assault Part 41

COkane8116 at aol.com COkane8116 at aol.com
Wed Oct 10 00:10:17 CDT 2001

"Why is the sun in front of us?" Charles asked, trembling, and not from the 
chill that was blowing in with the snow.

Garigan's jaw dropped and his eyes went wide in sudden horror.  He looked 
back down the tunnel, straight as ever, and dark after only a shot distance 
despite the new light piercing the veil of its blackness.  He then turned 
back around and stared in gaping horror at the sun. "We've been going south!"

Jerome dumped a rock as wide as his hips onto the ground in the snow that was 
collecting about his feet, and rubbed his hands within the folds of his robe. 
"South?  But weren't we supposed to be heading Northwest?"

"Look at the sun, it is staring us right in the face!  We've been going 
South!" Charles exclaimed, finding his voice much too loud for safety.  Yet, 
the terrible fact was standing before them, they'd been headed in the 
opposite direction from Glen Avery!  Now they were much too far to ever have 
any hope of assisting Garigan's people.

"Calm yourself," Zagrosek snapped softly, even as he stubbed his toe against 
the rock.  Grimacing, he rubbed his shin as he peered out of the hole they'd 
fashioned.  A thick line of trees and snow stood all about them outside the 
tunnel, while the bright yellow disc shone through the leafless branches.  
"We're here now, whether we like it or not, so let's do what we can."

Garigan was next to tears, staring at the sudden open mouthed as if he could 
not believe that it existed at all. "Do what?" he finally asked, his rough 
burr a near shrill. "Do what!"

Zagrosek glowered at the ferret and raised one palm forward, but did not 
strike Charles's student.  Matthias was too shocked by the sun still to react 
at all to his friend's action. "Be quiet.  There may be Lutins in the area as 
it is.  Charles, go out and see if you recognise where we've come out.  I'm 
tired of tunnels.  We can harass the Lutins from their flanks still if 
nothing else. And we will do something."

Charles nodded, though he did grab the hem of Zagrosek's robe and draw him 
away from his student.  Garigan had taken the hint and was frantically 
searching for his Calm.  It would not take him very long to find it, as the 
point had been made effectively.  The taller Sondeckis looked down at Charles 
rather abashed, "I'm sorry I had to do it."

Matthias nodded though, before scrambling up the rocks clogging the entrance. 
"I know, just let em do that in the future." 

The rocks were slippery from the snow, but having claws gave the rat a good 
grip, and soon, he was standing in vast field of undisturbed snow as high as 
his waist.  The trees were rather tall, taller than he remembered them being 
South of Metamor.  In fact, as he gazed about at the rough strewn hills, and 
disjointed assortment of the trees, he realised that he didn't recognise the 
area at all.

"I have no idea where this is.  It doesn't look like any place South of the 
Keep to me.  The trees are too tall," Charles whispered back into the tunnel 
entrance. From this side, he could see that it had been set into one side of 
a hill that only grew larger the further back it went.  In the sunlight, he 
could no better tell what sort of stone it was made from though.  

"Tall trees?" Garigan asked, his voice strangely accented all of a sudden. 
"Let me see." He climbed up onto the rocky outcropping, standing no better 
than Charles in the snow drift.  Matthias could already feel his toes start 
to freeze in the thick white confines.  He hoped that it was not this deep 
through the woods, or he'd soon freeze, no matter how much he wore!

He turned back to face the sun, hoping that some of its rays would warm him, 
though he found meagre comfort in its feeble light.  Even though the sun was 
visible, most of the sky was covered in thick grey clouds, most of them to 
the South in a thick, roiling mass.  Through the hills and the trees Charles 
could not tell if it was still snowing down that way.  He doubted the sun 
would last long either before the clouds filled in the small gap they had 
come out under.

"I know where this is," Garigan exclaimed suddenly, his face brimming with 
delight. "We're only an hour outside of Glen Avery!  I've travelled this way 
many times!"

"What?" Jerome asked, even as he scrambled up onto the rocks, slipping a bit 
as his human form did not possess claws that were good for gripping. "But 
we've been travelling South, you said Glen Avery was Northwest."  Zagrosek 
nodded, and said something similar, even as he tried to make his way from 
that tunnel and into the world of sunlight and breezes.

Charles laughed a bit, though he did keep his voice mostly to himself. "Well, 
this is Metamor.  You've seen how the geometry of the Keep changes.  Why not 
the direction of that tunnel?  I know I never saw a turn, but if a five-sided 
figure can have angles like a square, why not a straight passage that curves?"

Jerome waded through the snow, though on him it only reached past his knees. 
"Why not indeed!  And it is good to know that we are so close, but in which 

Garigan pointed just West of the sun. "We're a bit North and East of where we 
want to be, but it shouldn't take too long, even in the winter.  If we had 
snow shoes, it would be much easier."

The rat snorted, even as he tried to lift his legs enough to move through the 
snow, but found he could barely do so. "Either that or you are going to have 
to carry me."

Jerome jumped down the rock side, slipping and sliding down the hill a bit as 
he made his way towards a more level track.  He waved back up to them after 
stomping around for a moment.  He did not say anything though, having made 
far too much noise as it was already.  Though, the snow there did not appear 
to reach higher than his boots.  Charles breathed a sigh of relief at that.  
He would never make it to the Glen if he had to wade through snow up to his 
waist or higher.

Even so, it took him several minutes just to slide down the hillside after is 
fellow Sondeckis.  Zagrosek helped him, but even so, Krenek was left 
stumbling as his feet managed to find a few errant roots beneath all the 
layers of snow.  Of course, in the process of battling through the thick 
drift, his Sondeckis robes became soaked with the snow, and he could feel the 
chill creeping into his tunic and breeches underneath.  His heart was happy 
that Glen Avery was so close though, for in retrospect, he'd rather be in the 
tunnel then fighting snow drifts nearly as high as he was!

When they had all joined Jerome down at the base of the hill, Garigan took 
over the lead, flowing between the trees with the ease a Glenner ought to 
have.  Matthias would not have been surprised had his student called each 
tree they passed by name, and then able to tell stories of its struggles and 
travails in this northerly forest.  The trees did get wider and taller as 
they moved South, keeping the sun just a bit to their lefts as they moved.  
Soon, they were at their colossal stature that the rat remembered from his 
trip here back in May.

Yet, shrouded in the blanket of snow, most of it undisturbed, he found a new 
and greater appreciation for this, the most isolated region of the valley.  
Here they were in a shrine of nature, locked and guided by its whims and 
vagaries, and yet they beheld a beauty that could not be found elsewhere in 
the world, Charles was certain.  Until he'd visited here, he had never 
imagined trees wider than a horse.  Now, seeing them crested with white 
plumes of snow made him feel as if they had been clothed in gowns of purest 
priestly white, the finest silk that had been available.  They were the lofty 
kings of this world, towering beside the mountains themselves, giants who 
would long be standing even after the four of them had gone into the grave.

Even as he watched with his dark eyes, the clouds gathered far overhead, 
casting their world back in the pale grey that was so common in winter.  
Though the sun was obscured once more, Garigan still knew the way, leading 
them along the length of the shallow crescent between the hills, deeper into 
the clutch of the silent giants.  Jerome and Zagrosek followed blindly, 
glancing this way and that, always wary of the scout that may lurk behind 
those massive trunks.  Charles wondered if the Lutins might not stash an 
entire army behind them, as they were so huge at times.

Ere long, a light dusting of snow began to descend through the branches, and 
it gradually grew thicker as they pressed Southwards.  Glancing back behind 
him, Charles could see that their footfalls were already filling in with the 
newest precipitation.  Sighing, the rat drew his robe tighter about him, 
holding his arms as much inside the black cloth as he could.  Still, the 
dampness clung to him, sending shivers down through his fur. Despite the 
layering of his garments, he still felt as if he'd been buried in ice.

Over his own physical discomfort he still felt a distant sense of unease, as 
if there was something wrong about all that he was seeing, as if it were an 
illusion of some sort.  He could not identify the feeling, and so glanced 
from side to side at the banks of snow upon the hilltops, collecting and 
clustering around the trees, wondering if something might lie beneath that 
serene surface.  So it came as little surprise to him when Garigan held up 
his paw, ears alert and pointing forward, his posture firm, giving the green 
cloak about him an almost serpentine twist.

After a moment, in which Charles felt his heart skip a few beats as he stood, 
his foot paws going numb, and his whiskers collected with irksome snowflakes, 
the ferret slowly moved to one side, putting the base of one of the trees 
between himself and what lay over the crest of the next rise.  The three 
other Sondeckis did likewise, though the rat found the deeper snow much to 
his distaste.  It was up to his chest, and had he waded in to it, he doubted 
he could have found his way out again!

When he was close enough though, he could see the source of his student's 
alarm.  Over the rise he could hear the sounds of feet crunching snow, and of 
wagon wheels doing the same.  Peering from behind the tree trunk, he could 
see a small group of Lutins drawing several wagons along what must have been 
the old road to the North past Glen Avery.  It was not a large convoy though; 
only a squadron of twenty Lutins at the most manned the wagons, disconsolate 
mules dragging them through the thickening white blanket.  Coarse blankets 
covered the wagons, but from out of one corner the rat could see feedbags.

Slipping back around the tree, he noted that the others had seen the 
composition of the party as well.  They needed to decide what to do about it, 
however, for surely the path Garigan intended to take crossed that road.  
Blinking a bit of snow from his eyes, he spoke softly, directly into their 
ears as they leaned closer. "Supply wagons.  I'd wager they use this road to 
carry in their supplies from the Dike.  Do we let this group pass?"

Zagrosek shrugged softly, nestling into the cold confines of the winter 
frost.  He was sitting in it, which amazed the rat, who could barely stand 
and still see overtop of it. "If we attack them on the road, any other Lutins 
that come this way will see evidence of it."

"Perhaps not," Jerome mused rubbing his chin with one finger. "The blizzard 
hid their coming to Metamor.  It might cover our tracks by the time the next 
wagon passes by."

"And the bodies?" Charles pointed out.

"We can drag them over the next hill.  They'll probably never even look for 

"And we could certainly take some of the supplies to Glen Avery with us," 
Garigan pointed out, jerking his paw over his shoulder. "But if we do take 
them, we ought to move fast, they'll be past us shortly."

Matthias nodded slowly, frowning as something caused him to turn his head 
slightly; a touch of unease that seemed to focus off to his right, 
insistently pulling his attention in that direction.  He found his gaze 
locking with the livid brown glare of a lutin ten paces away as it stepped 
out from behind a tree.  The creature's green face contorted as it raised a 
short arm swathed in fur and pointed toward them as it yelled something.  
Before Charles could grab for his weapons or even warn the others the forest 
around them seemed to come alive with lutins.  The foul green skinned 
humanoids leapt up from behind rocks and trees close about them, spears and 
swords coming to bear.  Jerome and Zagrosek turned their heads in disbelief, 
while the ferret reached for his knives.

Charles felt a spear point touch his neck, and he held still for a moment, 
though his paw curled over the Sondeshike inside his robes. "You come with us 
now, sneaky Keepers!" the Lutin who held the spear said, spitting on the snow 
at their feet.


In the sudden darkness, Ki was just a shadow, a figure in the black. Fox 
could forget who she was, and concentrate on what he had to do.

She started running down the hallway. A good choice-right then and there was 
too obvious a place to start the fight.  Fox went after her, moving as 
quietly as he could, allowing her to get ahead of him.

He wasn't too worried, though. He took a side passage, one that moved in a 
long curve, coming out at a place that was ahead of her. Quietly, he thanked 
his Gods for allowing him to easily navigate the Keep, before he moved 
towards her.

Ki wasn't there. She should have been, but she wasn't. It wasn't until he was 
attacked from the side that he realized what she had done; blended herself 
with the shadows.

He rolled as he fell, landing hard enough on his side that something cracked. 
He let out a yelp of pain, but was still able to move out of the way as Ki 
came down towards him slashing with her dagger. She only grazed the side of 
his chest, cutting open his skin.

His own blade was out and in the air, meeting her arm, and digging across the 
muscle. She let out a yell of her own, and punched him in the muzzle.

Fox threw his own punch, but she was gone already, on her feet and running 
again. "Damn it!" she called back over her shoulder, her revealing little of 
the pain he knew she must feel. "That was my good arm."

"Of course," he called back, pulling himself to his feet, wincing as the 
broken rib grated against itself.

She responded with a short "Ha!" before disappearing around another corner.

He shook his head, trying to lose the pain in his muzzle from her punch, it 
faded slightly, but he suspected it was injured as well.

It was back to the chase. This time he decided to do something a bit 
different. He once again cut around her, moving though the Keep's hallways 
with an ease many would

Once more he was in front of her, but he did not step that way. Instead he 
drifted back down the intersecting hallway, hiding in the shadows.

He waited quietly, holding his breath, listening to her echoing footfalls as 
they approached him. A second later her figure passed in the darkness; Fox 
didn't move, though. This was surely a trap, she would not let the sounds of 
her travel carry like that.

Biding his time, he continued to wait. No more than half a minute later, 
another figure appeared, this one moving quietly, barely touching the floor.

Fox charged, knife and claws out. Ki saw him at the last second, twisting 
around to defend herself. Fox arced his dagger over his chest as he landed, 
slicing through her
clothing, and into her left breast. She rolled as he attacked her, throwing 
him off before he could reach her heart.

He landed in the hallway on the far side of the intersection, sliding on the 
stones. He was on his feet almost before he came to a stop, weapon held to 
attack, as he started a new charge.

There was a flash, and he was presented with a wall of flame. He tried to 
stop, but found the floor had become like ice, sending him sliding into the 

They were hotter than any normal flame, burning through his clothing, to his 
fur, then his skin. They left burns down his side and back as he fell through 
them. He crashed to the
floor on his shoulder, flipping over and landing on his burnt back.

He let out a howl of pain, then Ki was on him. He rolled, and rose to a 
crouch, pulling a new blade from his clothing, but she wasn't above him. He 
twisted around, but a new attack came from the side, throwing him to the 
ground, as he felt a blade rip through his tail.

His first reaction was to kick at her, before he let out a new yelp of pain. 
She danced away, holding a third of the end of his tail in her hand.

Fox growled, pulling himself to his feet, glaring at her.  She smiled, 
throwing up another flame wall, then another, and another. He was boxed in 
the intersection, no way out.

"You stay put, hon," Ki called. "Maybe once this is over we'll get together 
for dinner."

"You shouldn't spare my life," he growled to her, dropping to the floor, 
dizzy from the shock. He forced the pain down, though; he couldn't fail now. 
Instead he took the ragged end of his tail and shoved it into the flame. He 
bit back his scream of pain this time.

Ki didn't responded to his statement, but he could hear her running down the 
hallway. He pulled the end of the tail from the fire, finding it in even 
worse condition, but no longer

Rising to his feet, he judged his new balance. Finding it lacking, but not 
severely so, he then turned his attention to the fire.

Only one way out, and that was through flames.

Swearing to himself, he moved all the way back to the far wall of flame, 
before running and jumping through the wall before him.

This time the flame wasn't as hot, perhaps because it was spread thin over 
the four walls, but it burned him none the less. He ignored it, and hit the 
ground rolling, then was back in his feet, once more at a dead run.

He couldn't keep doing this-- the next encounter had to be the final one. He 
knew they were close to where Thomas was, a place he had avoided to prevent 
himself from being ordered to do, well, pretty much what he was already doing.

There was one last place he could make a stand against her; just outside of 
the Duke's location. It wasn't going to be easy, but there was nothing else 
to do.

This time he wouldn't bother trying to get ahead, it wouldn't work. Instead 
he was going for a simpler approach.  He kept after her, slowing down a bit 
as he got too close,
but not within seeing distance.

Ki would be expecting another attack from the front or the side, not from 
behind. Not after the last time. Anyway, an attack from behind wouldn't work. 
He had just one chance.

As they neared the proper spot, he started running again, straining to keep 
his claws from clicking on the floor. He got closer to her, seeing light 
filtering up from the stairway before her.

Finally he burst into a hard run, using all of the remainder of his strength. 
She heard him coming, and turned to face him, only to have his shoulder slam 
right into her chest, forcing her back farther down the hallway, over the lip 
of the stairwell.

They fell together, both fighting to get a weapon as they crashed down the 
hard stone steps. Each time they hit caused a new yelp of pain. Fox felt his 
leg snap as Ki fell on it,
twisting in an entirely wrong way as they landed on the hard floor.

They both pulled apart, weapons drawn. Ki was panting, a long and thin dagger 
in the hand of her unwounded arm, her chest covered in blood. She looked 
unharmed from the fall, as far as he could tell.

Fox pulled out his last dagger, a squat one, made for close quarters 
fighting. It was then he realized that just as his dagger was once a gift 
from her, and the one she held had come from him. The light in the room 
caused it to shine slightly.

"It ends now," he whispered around tightly clenched teeth as he fought back 
the pain of his injuries.  Time enough to suffer later.  If, of course, there 
was a 'later' for him.

"Yes," she said, a hard smile on her lips. "How appropriate that it's with 
the weapons we gave to each other."

"A question first," he said, pulling himself to his knees. "Do you still love 

She gave him a sad smile. "Yes, with my heart and soul, just as I always did."

"Please surrender?" he whispered, "I don't want to kill you."

She shook her head, "You know I can't do that."

"I know," he answered, blinking away a tear that dampened the fur of his 
cheek. "I will bury you at your home," he whispered.

She smiled. "I will bury you there, Kell," she answered.

He nodded, taking in a deep breath. "Good-bye."

"Good-bye," she responded.

They attacked as one, both moving toward each other almost as if it was 
planned, daggers clashing in air as Ki punched at his heart. Fox executed his 
attack differently, sinking his teeth into her arm, biting deep into the 
tendon, and pulling his head back, tearing at the skin.

She fell back, slashing at his face before the dagger was lost from her hand. 
Cold steel cut up the right side of Fox's muzzle, shearing off the center two 
whiskers at the root.

Fox swung his dagger down, into her chest, plunging it directly into her 
heart. She let out a ragged scream, gasping softly as she died.

He didn't move, just stayed on her body, holding the dagger, crying to 
himself as blood dripped down the end of his muzzle. He told himself over and 
over again that he had to
do it, he had no choice.

One of the large doors of the room opened, and a guard peeked out, a 
perplexed look on her face.

"There's two more assassins," he gasped, rolling off Ki's body.

The guard vanished, and the two doors opened wide. "I know," Thomas said, 
looking slightly haggard as he stepped out of the room. "We've already run 
into them."

Behind him, Fox could see dead bodies in the room; two he recognized as the 
assassins, the others he could not identify.  There were others as well, in 
the background, watching through the open door.

"That's good, sir," he said with a sigh. "This was their leader," he said by 
way of explanation for the body on the floor. He sighed softly, suddenly 
feeling drained of all
emotion, all feeling.  Darkness was beginning to creep in around his eyes.

"If she made it here that means the Lutins have pulled back." The muscular 
stallion observed as he knelt before the two sprawled out on the floor, "They 
would have attacked both of you."  He reached out and placed one hand lightly 
upon Fox's shoulder, "Very good work, Fox." Then stood and turned to the 
nearest of his guards.  "Select four of my guards and bring them here.  Now, 
while the Lutins have been drawn away we should make another attempt at 
reaching either of the chapels."  He looked back down at the fox, reaching 
out to touch the fallen librarian's tattered, singed clothing, "We need to 
get him to a healer as soon as possible as well.  Go get Maxwell and some 
strong backs."  He glanced back over his shoulder, "Now!" he snorted at those 
gathered closest.

A long-antlered head toward the back of the crowd bobbed quickly and turned 
away, the oryx hastening to get the aid of their one overworked medic.

"Hough's Chapel has become a rally point, correct?" he asked, leaning close 
to the fox.  He had to have some news, any news concerning his home.  Had it 
truly fallen, or simply overrun for a short time?  Were there other Keepers 
alive beyond the limits of the feasthall?

"Good," the battered librarian gasped, starting to feel light-headed, "Yes, 
think." He hissed breathlessly, nodding his head as he braced his hands upon 
the floor.  His arms refused even the attempt to push himself up.  
"Lightbringer temple too, sanctuary."

"He needs a healer," someone in the background said, Fox was not sure who.

Fox nodded in response, falling onto his hands. "Yes. not a Lightbringer 
though; that… would be bad." He tried to say something else, but his words 
came out a mumble as he slowly fell onto his face on the cold stones there 
before the Duke of Metamor.

As darkness wrapped around him, the last thing he heard was someone 
commenting on his condition as the Duke ordered others to get him into the 
room. He didn't hear all of it, but they did say that none of his visible 
wounds were mortal.  The rolling voice of the Duke faded from as he heard the 
declaration that they would make for the Chapel as he felt himself moving, 
strong hands under his shoulders and carefully cradling his hips, favoring 
the obviously broken leg.

He thought that was a good thing, as he drifted off into his dreams, to spend 
them with his wife.

End part 41
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