Chapter Twelve, Part Six
Everyone is gathered near the pantry when Melias pushes open the secret door. Only Arianna saw the outline of the door before it was open. To everyone else the wall looked solid. A stale, moldy smell rushes out when the three foot high door is fully opened. Inside, flickering lights reflect off the rough, grey and earth-toned stone walls within. In either direction, the passage ceiling is six feet high and narrow. To the left it ends with the outside wall, but to the right it continues for half the length of the kitchen before ending. Every few feet along the east wall a lit torch sticks out of a crack.
“About time we have another light source! I’ve used way too much lamp oil already!” Rastorn grumbles softly, as he extinguishes his flour covered lantern.
The kitten purrs softly in Arianna’s hand.
“My, it’s awfully warm in here,” Arianna states as she starts to fan herself with her hand. “I don’t know why, but I feel like the temperature has suddenly risen.”
Melias scratches his head as he steps into the secret area, “I don’t get it,” he says. “What’s the point? Light up a little space that goes nowhere and holds nothing? A torch cubby? Maybe there’s another secret door in here somewhere or another one of those invisible bug-things.” He points to the left and says, “Arianna, if you’d be so kind, could you check that direction, and I’ll check this way. There’s got to be another secret door.” As Arianna joins him, Melias says, “I should be asking who lit these torches. I doubt they’re magical.”
Arianna fans herself as she searches down the corridor to the left.
Holding his hand close to the first torch, Melias nods, then follows the route of the smoke as it rises and drifts into small vents along the ceiling. He searches the walls, floor, and ceiling from the door to the end of the passage before discovering a well-hidden secret door on the end of the eastern wall. A moment later, he locates the opening mechanism. He pushes a small outcropping and the wall slides sideways, vanishing into the corner and revealing another hallway. This one is like the last, with lit torches, but it runs east and west.
Claire and Deathwish follow Arianna.
Arianna frowns and drops the kitten. She waves Claire to her and whispers a question. Claire nods, picks up the cat, then leads her out. Arianna shakes her head as she and Claire move temporarily to a different room. “Nothing down this end,” Arianna tells Melias.
Searching the left wall, Melias spots another secret door. The lever is similar to the last one and easier to spot. The door slides out to reveal a small room with stairs leading up.
Before she reaches the newly discovered door, Kafeera turns and shoves her way back to the kitchen. Claire and Arianna pass her as they return and Arianna notices she is struggling to control her breathing, but says nothing.
Melias looks into the new room and smiles broadly. “Three for three,” he tells Arianna, when she reaches him. He looks up the steps and says, “I don’t think we should go much further this direction for the time being. Let’s make sure there’s nothing left on this floor that’s going to sneak up behind us.” Returning to the secret door at the end of the passage, he catches a glimpse of Kafeera peeking in from the first secret door. He shakes his head, believing all the women were acting crazy since they entered the keep. As he returns to searching for secret door, even in the areas Arianna had checked, he asks, “Kafeera, do you have an aversion to tight places?”
Kafeera wipes the sweat from her brow as she growls, “An aversion to what? No.” She steps back out of view.
SeLiem takes a look at Melias’ latest find. The staircase is entirely different from the secret passage. The walls are smooth painted brick. Like the rest of the mansion, there is no obvious light source, although two unlit lanterns sit on hooks at the bottom of the stairs. His candle burns out and he grimaces. He had forgotten it was magical and could have been saved for later had he blown out the flame earlier.
Melias quickly finds another secret door at the end of the second secret passage and the lever to slide it open. Beyond the door is another passage, this one heading north. Again, it lit with torches exclusively on the left wall.
In the pantry, Kafeera studies her wound. It has not gotten any worse, as she had feared. She asks Rastorn, “You were the only one who could see it, so do you know what bit me?”
Rastorn shrugs and says, “I’ve never seen a beast like that in all my years. Nor do I know why only I could see it. I do have a hypothesis, though. I think it is some sort of magical leech. It bled light similar to that in its eyes, which leads me to believe magic is its lifeblood. If that is so, perhaps it was feeding on me and that relationship allowed only me to see it. But, that is just my guess and, although I am a genius, monsters are not my area of expertise. I just hope it did not erase spells from my mind!” He points at SeLiem, “If you begin to feel as if you are poisoned, talk to the bandage. I have no way to save you.”
The party gathers together and walks down the latest passage. After a short distance inside, everything goes dark as all the torches in the halls blink out.
It takes several seconds for the Demi-human’s eyes to readjust, but Rastorn wastes no time attempting to relight his lantern.
Melias threw his back against the wall at the instant of darkness. “Well, that was weird,” he says as Rastorn’s lantern sparks to life. “Maybe those were magical torches after all.” He calls to the back of the group, “Could you head back and close the first secret door, then open it again? I’m curious if the torches are on some sort of timed mechanism. I’ll check this secret door again and see if it is somehow involved.” He jumps forward with a little shout of surprise. “I backed up into something over there on the wall!” With the lantern illuminating the area, he takes a closer look and feels around for something that might be invisible.
“Maybe if we shut the door it’ll go away,” she says with a smirk. She reaches for her sword and finds the sheath empty.
Spotting Arianna’s problems, Deathwish checks and finds his sword has also been stolen.
Kafeera takes a quick survey of her belongings and discovers nothing is missing, although she shares that she did feel something brush against her when they were in darkness.
Rastorn hears Deathwish gasp, sees what has happened, and begins searching his pockets and belts.
Claire also leaps back from the wall she was searching. She found a section of wall that felt soft. She feels something snatched from her belt. “I just touched a really soft wall and those sons of bitches got my Dagger of Throwing!”
Rastorn shrieks, “I’ve been robbed!” He searches around with his lantern. “Alright, Melias is way up there and Claire is out of reach, too, so there must be some sort of invisible thief among us! I want my belongings back! Do you hear me! If I don’t have it returned – I will Fireball this entire hallway!”
Melias snarls.”Cover the exits, pull them shut – quickly! Let’s not let the bastard escape with our stuff!” He curses, “Damn thieves!” as he pulls out his longsword in his prime hand and rakes both blades against the walls, attempting to close in on something within the hallway.
Claire probes the soft wall again.
“Use the kitten! Animals can sense things like this. If nothing else, it has a keener sense of smell then we do,” Arianna tells her. Knowing she can’t use Iflander in such tight confines, she reluctantly pulls her daggers, after shutting the doors.
SeLiem checks and discovers he hasn’t lost any belongings, Deathwish continues searching the walls, and Rastorn readies a spell saying, “Alright, thief, prepare to die,” through gritted teeth.
The walls come alive.
A moment before Melias would have cut them, two man-sized creatures jump off their perch on the wall before him and stand with their hands over their heads.
The wall Claire was checking makes a sucking noise, as two child-sized creatures pull themselves off the wall before her and fall to their knees with their heads low. They present her dagger and Deathwish’s sword in their outstretched hands.
Kafeera leaps back when Arianna’s sword suddenly appears before her, held out for the taking by an arm that seems to have been a part of the wall.
A wand drops off the wall and lands at Rastorn’s feet. Shaking with anger, he quickly scoops it up and shouts, “Show yourself!” He was only referring to the one who stole from him, but many more of the creatures drag themselves off the walls all along the corridor.
They are of differing sizes and shapes, some hulking, some thin, some smallish, some tall, but all are expertly camouflaged to match the walls they hid within. Left behind each is an indentation carved out specifically for this purpose. Their clothing, more like rags and raggedy cloaks, had been dyed to match the wall and stuffed bumps resembling stones were sewn into the fabric. Some process was used to harden the material as well, so that in some places it was nearly as stiff and unyielding as stone. All the creatures are covered from head to toe, even their faces are masked by cloth and their hands are gloved. Based on the odd-shaped coverings, some of the creatures are deformed, with enlarged hands or humped backs. They all grovel on the floor before the party, attempting to return the items they so expertly stole.
The kitten leaps into the hands of one of the smaller creatures and purrs loudly.
“Prepare for slaughter you cowardly curs!” Rastorn shouts as he pulls a spell component from a fold in his robe.
“Peassse naw, jusss Grrrr! Grrrr take yaw wan! Jusss Grrrr! Jusss . . . me,” the one closest to Rastorn pleads.
Rastorn snarls at the creature and whispers, “You’ll be the first, then.”
Arianna rushes to Rastorn and yells, “Stop!” She puts the tip of her daggers in the small of his back.”You cast that spell and it’ll be the last thing you do. There is no honor in killing a creature on its knees. They’re defenseless and what you’re about to do is murder.”
“Why do you feel a wand is much more valuable than a life? Why do we put up with your hostility and why do you resolve most issues with magical fire or making a dumbass comment?” SeLiem shouts. “We can resolve this and make peace as long as they give our items back. Back up and put your wand away, Rastorn, before I decide my hammer needs a little practice with a combat dummy.” Looking at the creatures on the floor, he says, “What gives you the right to steal from us in the first place? Stand up. I hate people who grovel for forgiveness. Show us your faces. I wish to see exactly to whom or to what we are speaking.”
Claire takes her things and returns the sword to Deathwish. “Thank you. Exactly what the hell are you, anyway? And why do you want the kitten?”
Melias smiles as the mischievous ones show themselves. There are so many of them and they are not much for fighting. He tries to hide his smile. Rastorn sure made them give up in a hurry. He sheaths his long sword and quickly inventories his own items to see if he was also a victim of their deft fingers. Kneeling in front of one of the shorter ones, he unwraps the cloth from around the creature’s head to get a better look.
“Would one of you get my longsword for me? I’m sort of having to babysit at the moment,” Arianna says. Her weapons remain at Rastorn’s back. She goes on, “I, for one, can’t be too angry at these little devils. I mean, my own family make their wages as thieves and after I left them I ended up with a short career stealing from rich merchants. I think what bothers me is how skilled they are. I didn’t hear or feel a thing.”
When she notices the daggers at Rastorn’s back, Kafeera shakes her head. Is there always so much dissent in adventuring groups? She steps in front of Rastorn, bows slightly, and says, “I can’t say I admire your tactics Mage, but I do know rage and I know of the mistakes one can make while blinded by such a bittersweet force I suggest . . . ” She decides to save further comment for another time and place and instead says to the whole party, “Perhaps it is we who should be groveling at their feet. Correct me if I’m wrong, but are we not trespassing upon their territory?”
Rastorn had stopped casting the moment he felt Arianna’s blades in his back, but he was more shocked by SeLiem’s harsh words. He says to Kafeera, “Yes, you speak the truth. I let anger overtake logical judgment.” Then he looks SeLiem dead in the eye and says, “I will not harm these creatures.”
The one holding the kitten looks up at Claire and says, in a gravely high-pitched voice, “Fluff mine. See?” On cue, the kitten sticks its head under the creature’s cowl and licks its face.
Having removed the final layer of camouflage and cloth, Melias reveals the creature’s face. It has a disproportionately large head, with huge bulbous eyes, tusks for teeth, and scales scattered here and there over its bald head. Another pulls its hood down of its own accord, showing Orc-like features, but skin reminiscent of a Troll.
One at a time, they all remove their head coverings, each one looking startlingly different from the other, though each has monstrous features hinting at mixed heritage.
A smallish creature with extremely long ears and the snout of a wolf, looks at Claire and says, “We are of many . . . like you.” It then looks at Arianna, then SeLiem, and finally Kafeera, who towers over it. It scratches its head and says, “Giant?”
This chapter concludes next week!
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