[Vfw-times] MK Winter assault part 24b

COkane8116 at aol.com COkane8116 at aol.com
Sat Sep 1 21:56:54 CDT 2001

At the very least, Charles slept peacefully.  His dreams were filled with 
bright images, of Lady Kimberly and he frolicking and enjoying each other's 
company out in one of the gardens of the Keep.  They sat beneath an 
espaliered wall, nestled against the thin trunk of the tree, sharing each 
other in ways that so far had been confined to Matthias's dreams.  One paw 
clutched a branch set against that wall, holding on as his dream exploded 
into brilliant rays of light.

Then abrupt darkness as he felt Zagrosek's had upon his shoulder, rousing him 
from his pleasant sleep.  Struggling from the confines of his robes, the last 
images from his dream still clouding his mind, he gazed blindly about him 
with an embarrassed smile, but of course, no candle had yet been lit, so none 
could see his chagrin.

But the darkness was short-lived this time, thankfully, as the sound of flint 
against steel rang in his ears.  Moments later Jerome brought a small flame 
to life on one of the candles.  In quick succession the other candles were 
brought to life, and soon the room was bright once more.  Wrapping his cloak 
tightly about himself, Charles nodded to the rest, noting that the Sondeckis 
appeared much less haggard than before.

"Charles?" a voice from behind him asked, and for a moment, that embarrassed 
smile crept back onto his muzzle.

"Yes?" the rat asked, turning to stare at Elliot who stood with a candle held 
gingerly in one paw.

"What happened to your tail?"

"My tail?" Charles asked, certain that Elliot was going to ask about 
something far more private.  Glancing back behind him to where his tail 
peeked out from beneath his cloak, he grimaced.  The portion that had been 
scalded in Wessex's first attack was slightly puffy still, and quite pink. 
"It was burned a little, but it should be all right.  I don't even feel it 
that much anymore."

Elliot nodded and then glanced back at the others.  They were all bundled up 
in their thick wool cloaks, even the rats.  Jerome was lighting the two 
lanterns that they'd brought with them, extending the wick inside the 
receptacle barely past the hole through which it was twined.  The flame that 
rose from it was slender, and very petite, but it glowed with a resilient 
orange fire.

"Well, we're depending on you four," Zagrosek said, looking back at the door 
that had remained shut for the last few hours. "Which one of you knows these 
cellars the best?"

Goldmark raised his paw over his head. "That would be me, I'm afraid."

The Sondeckis nodded, his black hair shifting only slightly with that motion. 
"I suppose Jerome and I can watch the back, while you and Charles lead."

Goldmark looked over to his fellow rat, dressed the same way as the humans in 
that black robe with the shield, hand, and sword insignia. "I don't suppose 
you want to wait any longer?"

"We've waited long enough already," Garigan said hotly, crossing his arms, 
his short tail shifting beneath his green robes.

"He's right," Charles murmured softly, taking one of the lanterns from Jerome 
and handing it to Elliot. "Stay behind us, and keep that light shrouded as 
best you can.  Do you think you can handle that?"

Elliot held one paw before the light, obscuring most of it except for what 
slipped through the cracks in his fingers. "I think so."

"Good, then we should leave once we are sure it is safe to do so.  Julian?" 
Charles pointed towards the door, and the white rat solemnly pressed his ear 
against it, sliding his claw once again into the lock.  It took him barely 
any time at all to catch the latch and draw it open now that he'd done it 
twice before already.  The door gently drew inwards, slowly, though, for 
which Matthias was thankful.  The hallway stood empty outside, and neither 
sound nor scent greeted them except the draughty mustiness of the cellars.

Nodding once, Julian stepped out of the way to allow Charles and Goldmark to 
step outside, with Elliot and Garigan following closely behind.  The pale 
light shone over their shoulders and gave the hallway beyond a spectral cast. 
 Old stones hung overhead, and now Charles could see the faint traces of moss 
and fungus that clung between the cracks.  Yellows and greys filled the 
spaces between the stones, while rivulets of filthy water dribbled along 
them, charting the course of their growth as the moisture led down towards 
cellars even more remote from the lives of the Keepers.  Where in places the 
stone had grown too mouldy, and had crumbled to the ground, the cavities 
remaining were filled with that creeping life, and sometimes the rats found 
that they could see those amorphous masses shining with gangrenous light even 
before the lantern illuminated their mildewed form.

Thankfully though, the floor was free of those cancerous infestations, but 
instead was choked with dust that rose into the air as they walked.  It clung 
to their noses, nearly causing Charles to sneeze several times.  The path 
that Goldmark led, though, was much less clogged than many of the other side 
passages that they happened to pass by.  It would be obvious to any tracker, 
skilled or otherwise, that somebody had recently passed this way, but they 
found it hard to believe the Lutins would reach this far beneath the surface 
of the Keep.  Of course they found it hard to believe that the Lutins would 
reach the Keep at all, much less enter it.  And so Jerome and Zagrosek kept a 
wary eye behind them, their nervousness unspoken, but known by all.

Even so, they descended further and further into the dank confines of the 
cellars without incident.  Several times, they had to skirt around an 
unseemly fragrant pool that had filled portions of the hallway.  Charles 
feared even dragging his clothes through the noxious water, for fear they 
would be covered by the mucous clinging to the pool's membranous surface like 
cadaverous flesh upon bone.  Sometimes he fancied things lurking beneath the 
calm surface, waiting to reach out and snatch at his foot paw should it stray 
to near, only to smother him in some necrophagous abyss.  Yet, they remained 
preternaturally still, aside from when a droplet of water fell from the 
ceiling, rippling outwards along that mucus in a rather subdued fashion.

The entire cellars possessed that same feel of being subdued, as if life and 
motion here were foreign concepts, ones that were squelched by the unbearable 
weight of the years and of the stone that rest over their heads.  Charles was 
reluctant even to speak, for fear it might conjure some unsightly ghast from 
the walls of Metamor itself, covered in that profane muck and slime, and turn 
him into much the same, as punishment for his blasphemy.  Again, he chided 
himself on letting his prodigious imagination overcoming his senses, but he 
still kept as quiet as he could be.

In fact, aside from one snippet of conversation that Garigan and Elliot had 
near their backs, none of them spoke a word the entire time they descended 
into the dark and untrod chambers of the Keep's cellars.  The dank and 
clogging mildew almost made Charles wish to be in the dungeons themselves, 
for they were much cleaner and not nearly as dreary.  In fact, the walls 
about them felt almost hostile to their intrusion, as if they were 
trespassing on hallowed ground.  That feeling clung to his heart the entire 
time they remained in that passage alongside the darkened rooms.

He did not even notice what they truly were until Garigan spoke, his voice 
hushed, but audible. "Was that a bedroom?"

Elliot nodded and replied, "Yes, they have mirrors in there, but they are to 
old to even show you your reflection anymore."

"Who lived there?  And why would they live so deep in the cellars like this?" 
Garigan's voice stung Charles, springing up all sorts of unnatural fears.  As 
his eyes traced along the walls, he could almost make out indistinct faces 
glaring back at him, their features twisted in fashions that were not 
recognizable even as human.

"As to who lived here, none of us know.  But it must have been a very long 
time ago indeed, because I don't think that these rooms were this far beneath 
the earth then.  Hector thinks we should be right beneath the killing grounds 
now, so several thousand years ago, you might have been able to look out a 
window at the mountains from here.  I don't know for sure though."

Neither Garigan nor Elliot spoke after that, for which Charles was glad, 
though he certainly would not say so, or even smile while they walked on past 
those glaring faces. After a moment, the rat realised that they were not just 
his fanciful imaginings glowering down at him from the walls, but they were 
the last remnants of statues carved into the walls themselves from ages long 
ago!  With a trembling breath, he sucked in air that he supposed had not been 
breathed in several millennia.

However, it was only a short time after they had left that passageway that 
Goldmark stopped.  They had come down more flights of stairs than Charles 
bothered to count, and had more stone hanging above their heads than he 
wished to reckon either!  Before them was a thick portal of black stone, 
chiselled as if from the side of a mountain.  It was clearly not the same 
sort of stone used in fashioning the rest of the Keep, for where mould had 
overtaken much of the structure that they'd passed on their journey, this was 
still solid and smooth, as like it was freshly cast.

Finally, after holding his tongue for so long, Charles asked, "Is this it?" 
He trembled as his paw felt the cold surface of the stone, as if it contained 
the icy chill that billowed outside. 

Goldmark nodded, looking back towards the others.  The light from the two 
lanterns glistened on the surface of the portal, lighting a small handle that 
was inset into the centre of its frame. "We've never been able to move this 
portal, but we know it points roughly Northwest.  If there is anything that 
could take you from this keep, it must be beyond this door."

"How do you know it is a door?" Jerome asked, peering overtop of Julian's 
short head.

Goldmark knocked on the metal several times, and a hollow sound echoed back. 
Jerome nodded, smiling slightly. "Are you sure it opens outwards?"

"It has to," Elliot interjected, pointing at the sides. "Look at the sizes of 
those hinges."  And indeed, a set of large hinges framed one side of the 
circular portal. "We're just not strong enough to move it, and only two of us 
can hold that handle at a time."

"Krenek," Charles called, and the large man stepped past the two rats before 
him. "Let's see if we can move it." 

Zagrosek nodded and put his hand around a good portion of that inset ring. He 
lifted it with ease, and peered down at the rat.  Charles calmly slipped his 
own paw beneath that black iron, feeling the way it slid over his skin for a 
moment.  Then, tightening his grip, he nodded emphatically, and began to 
usher his Sondeck through his arm and into the portal.  It groaned, a loud 
resonating sound that made bits of mouldy stone dribble from the ceiling in 
consternation. The rats all stared at the ceiling and the walls, hoping that 
they would remain intact as the black door began to slowly but inexorably 
come loose.

Both Charles and Zagrosek grunted as they heaved.  Jerome leaned back and 
forth on his feet, holding one of the lanterns his over his shoulder so that 
he might see, but it was clear to all those around that he wished to assist.  
Finally, after the two Sondeckis gasped for breath, leaning back against the 
portal, no longer pulling for a moment, he saw how he could help.  Moving 
over between the door and the wall, he began to push at the frame.  Charles 
flashed him a quick smile before he gripped the handle again and yanked for 
all the might he could muster.

With all three of them using their Sondeck, the door did finally come to rest 
wide open.  It had been a rather thick door, at least an arm's length thick 
at the middle, and so it was no surprise that the rats had not been able to 
make it budge.  Lifting the lantern and shaking the stress from his arms out 
a bit, Jerome peered into the blackness that awaited them beyond. He was 
greeted only with another hallway, one that appeared to be slightly fresher 
than the one that they stood in, but otherwise unremarkable.  The four 
Sondeckis were quick to note that it appeared to head off in the same 
direction for as far as the light could shine, and their eyes could penetrate.

"This looks promising," Charles murmured, glancing back at the four rats who 
stood in the hallway, peering down past the portal as well. "Thank you very 
much, we owe you a great favour."

The four of them smiled then, even Julian.  Hector though spoke for them all. 
"Thank you for coming to us and warning us of Nasoj and his Lutins.  We're 
going to go back up and see how we can help."

"You could come with us," Charles offered, indicating the other Sondeckis.

"No, this is our home, and we will defend it.  You defend yours," Hector 
said, though the last was meant for Garigan alone, and the others knew it.  
Charles nodded, and then patted his fellow rodent on the shoulder.  Hector 
leaned forward though, and whispered into Matthias's saucer-shaped ears, "And 
I do hope you plan to tell us what that symbol you all have on your cloaks 

Charles found himself laughing, something he had never thought he'd do in 
these dank passages, or in relation to the Sondeckis. "I'll tell you after 
this is all over.  I'll tell everybody, I think." That brought a rather 
quirky smile to the muzzles of his friends.  He disengaged himself from his 
fellow rats, and stepped towards the portal and the dark hallway beyond. 
"Best of luck to you, my friends.  Do take care of yourselves.  And remember, 
use what you have, and take pride in it always."

"You too, Charles.  Don't get yourself killed!" Elliot called back, even 
while Goldmark lit one of the candles he'd brought with him by one of 
Jerome's lanterns.

End part 24b
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