[Vfw-times] MK Winter Assault part 24a

COkane8116 at aol.com COkane8116 at aol.com
Sat Sep 1 21:52:44 CDT 2001

The Lightbringer Archives were quiet, and unexpectedly warm considering the 
weather.  Men, women and children were curled up on the floor in soft woolen 
blankets; some of them, those who were old, sick, or weak, rested on thin 
sleeping mats that provided a bit more comfort for their tired and aching 
bones.  Most had drifted off to sleep by now, clustered together into groups 
of family and friends.  Others still lay awake, praying for the protection of 
their loved ones outside.  And one figure paced irritably back and forth near 
the spiral staircase, her footsteps making no sound but her frustration 
obvious in every movement.

A second form quietly descended the stairs, touched the first figure lightly 
on the shoulder, and beckoned her back the way she had come.

"You shall arouse the others if you continue pacing down there," Merai said 
when they had reached the top of the staircase.

"If you dislike seeing me pace, then give me something useful to do," Daria 
growled. "I have no business sleeping on a night like this."

Merai turned and clasped forearms with her warrior friend. "What good will it 
do anyone for you to wear yourself out?" she asked, her voice and eyes 
concerned.  Her feline tail twitched behind her in silent worry.

"What good will it do me to sit here while the battle rages outside?" the 
redhead countered. "I'm a squire, Merai.  My place is by my master's side, in 
battle, not cowering in here behind a wall of magic." She clenched and 
unclenched her fists repeatedly, looking as if she desperately wished to be 
holding a sword and shield in those hands.

Merai sighed and shook her head, her pointed ears twitching backwards a 
little. "This battle is bigger than us, Daria. Going outside, alone, now -- 
you would only get yourself killed.  One squire will make no difference."

Daria's jaw tightened, but after a moment she, too, lowered her head and 
sighed. "I know. And perhaps that is the more frustrating thing." She slumped 
down against the wall, and the cat-woman silently moved to join her. Daria 
drew her knees up close to her body, gripping her arms in her hands as if to 
ward off some unseen chill.

After a few seconds of silence, Daria turned to face Merai.  The young 
priestess saw that her friend's eyes were wet with tears. "Merai, my father 
is out there right now," she murmured.  The dread in her voice was palpable. 
"He was on the wall when the alarum sounded. I wish that I could go to him, 
help him in the battle ... but I could never find him out there, and it would 
be wrong for me try." She fell silent again, her hands tightening against her 
arms. "All my life, my father has been the most important person in my life," 
she said, her eyes distant. "He has been my inspiration, my example ... I 
look at him and I see a hero." She shook her head distractedly. "I know that 
people die in war. But if he's gone..."

Her voice drifted off, as her head hung forward limply.  Wordlessly, Merai 
reached out and drew her into an embrace, holding her close as silent tears 
rolled down.  Daria fought so hard to be strong, Merai reflected -- struggled 
to be the brave knight and warrior she had always wanted to be.  But emotions 
were real and important things, and denying them could only force them inward 
until they consumed you.  Merai tried to help her realize that there was no 
shame in expressing her feelings -- but as her friend clutched tightly at her 
back, digging her fingers into Merai's robe until she was gripping the soft 
fur beneath it, the priestess reflected that she still had a long way to go.

After some time -- Merai could not say how long -- they heard a sudden 
pounding in the hallway outside.

"What is that?" Daria asked, frowning. "Is someone trying to break in?"

Merai perked her ears forward, listening. Someone was, indeed, banging on the 
heavy bronze-covered doors of the temple -- but there was another sound 
interspersed with it, fainter but still recognizable...

"Those are Keepers," she said, getting to her feet. "They must have come here 
looking for shelter."

"Can we let them in?" Daria asked, following close behind her as she wiped 
the tears from her eyes.

"I hope so."

Stepping out of the side passage that contained the staircase, Merai shut the 
door behind them and headed for the main entrance.  Two guards stood at the 
door, both human, their swords drawn and ready.  One was a town guardsman 
from Euper named Wester and the other a woman who called herself a bodyguard. 
 From the cool manner the two acted toward each other there were other 
obvious undercurrents to their lives, which Merai had no concern over, and 
the two were not allowing to interfere with their duties at the door.

"Is anyone in there?" a female voice shouted behind the door. "Please, let us 
in! We have wounded with us!"

Merai gripped the heavy metal handle on one of the doors. "Were you 
followed?" she asked, trying to speak loudly enough to be heard while still 
being considerate of those sleeping in the nearby rooms.  The woman grasped 
the crossbrace, handing the other guard her sword for a moment as she 
prepared to haul the heavy beam up.  She said nothing, watching Merai with 
intense, hazel eyes, and waited.

"No, the staircase closed behind us on the second floor," the voice answered. 
"There isn't an enemy in sight."

Nodding, Merai stepped back from the door. "Lady Kyia," she murmured, "will 
you let these people come inside?"

The answer came back like a whisper on the wind. "I shall. There is no danger 
-- they have brought no darkness with them."

"Thank you," Merai whispered.  Turning to Daria, she motioned at the door. 
"Would you let them in, Dari?  I shall keep watch that nothing foul tries to 
slip in behind them."

The squire nodded, walking up to the large double doors as the female guard 
hauled the crossbrace back. She grabbed the handle of the left one and it 
opened easily.  Quickly, a line of about twenty men and women of assorted 
species filed into the room, carrying two more men and a young girl along 
with them.  As soon as the last one had passed inside the door shut firmly 
behind them and the crossbrace was rammed back in place. Merai beckoned to 
two acolytes who silently stood guard at the far end of the hallway with two 
other armed members of the congregation.  There were only a score of assorted 
weapons to go around, and most of them were decorative pieces ill suited to 
any sort of fighting other than the rare duel.

"Take these three into the temple and tend to their wounds," she said. "I'll 
be along shortly to help with anything serious."

Without a word, the acolytes came over and examined the wounded. After a 
moment, they led the men carrying them back into the main temple hall.

"Thank you," one of the remaining women said, approaching Merai and extending 
a hand. She was a skunk-morph, one of the few Merai had seen, and her eyes 
were a mixture of gratitude, worry, and hardened resolve. She also looked 
tired, her breathing labored from what must have been a long, hard run from 
the battle lines. Surprisingly, Merai could only faintly detect any hint of 
the woman's distinctive musk; traces of it lingered on the clothes of some of 
her comrades, but none on the mephit herself. Merai noticed a pendant hanging 
from the skunk-morph's neck; its magic shined clearly in the priestess's 
aura-vision, and she realized that this must be the device that was dampening 
the mustelid's aroma.

All of which would make things much easier on everyone, especially since they 
were in confined quarters. Merai clasped the woman's hand firmly, nodding 
once. "Just doing our duty," she said. "Welcome to the Lightbringer Temple. 
I'm Sister Merai."

"Aye, I've seen you from time to time around the Keep," the other woman said 
with a weary smile. "Kayla," she added by way of introduction, speaking over 
her shoulder as she turned to the nearby cloakroom and began pulling off her 
winter outer-garments and laying aside the few weapons she'd managed to 
secure since the alarum sounded.

"A pleasure," Merai said, smiling. "Though I wish it could be under other 
circumstances." Her expression turned serious. "How goes the battle?"

" 'Tis too soon to tell," Kayla said, frowning. She leaned back against the 
wall, resting there for the moment, but she seemed to be recovering from her 
exertion quickly. "The enemy has control of the town, and some have 
penetrated the castle, but they've not gotten far within it. The Keep seems 
to be frustrating their advances."

"Good to hear. Where is Lord Thomas?"

The skunk shook her head.. "I don't know. I was at Misha Brightleaf's Yule 
party -- I've not seen the Duke since yesterday."

Merai bit her lip thoughtfully. "I hope he is all right."

"So do I."

"What of the guards?"

Merai and Kayla turned to look at Daria. The red-haired woman's expression 
was earnest, and her eyes were red and just a little swollen from her recent 

"Beg pardon?" Kayla asked.

"The guards on the curtain wall," Daria said. "What has become of them?"

Kayla sighed. "I'm sorry, I don't know," she said again. "I would imagine 
most have been killed, or at best cut off from help. There may yet be a few 
in the towers, and some may have reached the entrance to the Keep on the 
northeast side." She shook her head again, sadness in her eyes. "Considering 
how quickly the enemy came upon us though, I doubt that many have survived."

Daria leaned back against the wall, visibly shaken. "Thank you," she 

With difficulty, Merai drew her eyes away from her troubled friend and back 
to the skunk-woman. "Kyia has opened the first two levels of the Archives to 
visitors," she said, gesturing at the door that led to the staircase. "You 
can sleep there for the night -- we'll provide you with blankets. One of you 
may stay with your wounded friends while their injuries are treated, but no 
more than that. The Lothanasa will give us further instructions in the 

"Thank you," Kayla said. After a few moments of discussion with her 
associates, it was decided that she would be the one to stay by their wounded 
comrades. Following the directions of one of the acolytes, the others made 
their way down to the Archives.

Merai, meanwhile, entered the temple hall, with Kayla following close behind. 
 There were now five acolytes awake and tending to the injuries of the men 
and the girl. After conversing with them for a few minutes and looking over 
the three wounded, Merai decided that they were in no grave danger and the 
Light-Healing would not be necessary. Kayla sat down beside them and began 
speaking to them softly, as Merai went into a storeroom and brought out a few 
cups and a pitcher of water. The skunk-morph accepted them gratefully and 
helped her injured friends to drink a little before pouring a cup for herself.

"Do you have any idea what the Lightbringer is planning?" Kayla asked, after 
her comrades had drifted off to sleep.

"Not really. She said that she would 'speak with her sources', that she would 
have more information in the morning, but I know not how she means to go 
about it. It seems as though she intends to simply wait the battle out, and 
provide whatever comfort she can to those who are trapped here with us."

Kayla turned to look at Daria. The young woman was still sitting in the 
entrance hallway, leaning up against the plastered wall, staring numbly off 
into space. "I doubt that some will be satisfied with that course of action."

"So do I, but what else can we do? There are only a few hundred of us here, 
most of them women, children and older folk. What can we do that would have 
any impact?"

Kayla smiled. "You'd be surprised what a small group of warriors can do, 
Sister Merai -- especially when they are fighting the enemy in territory they 
know well. Have you ever heard of 'otrinca'?" Merai shook her head. "It means 
'little war' -- it's a term we use in Intelligence to describe the tactics of 
harassing a large invading force, like a dog nipping at their heels."

"You work in Intelligence?" Merai asked, surprised.

Kayla nodded. "I know something of otrinca tactics -- my grandfather was a 
tactician, and I've been with Intelligence for a number of years now. They 
can be very effective. In a situation like this you cannot stand toe-to-toe 
with the enemy and win, but you can make their lives a lot more difficult."

Slowly, a smile spread over Merai's face. "Daria, come over here," she said. 
"Kayla has something you'll want to hear."

  End part 24a
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