Go in to the tunnel, and keep heading straight, until you reach the first corner, and then go right.
“Yeah, yeah, I got it. Straight and right at the first corner. Can you let a guy concentrate a bit?”, he grumbled in response to the voice in his head. Her constant directions were beginning to grate on him.
He entered the short stone tunnel, and began to move forward, his head twisting left and right in order to keep alert for any other presences. He sidled to the right, pressing against the wall slightly to avoid the dusty pile of bones, fur and rotting flesh that rested against the opposing wall, the stench overwhelming his senses. Whatever it had been, it was fairly large, very dead, and only a couple weeks old – well, a couple weeks in its current state, anyhow. He wrinkled his nose and kept moving forward, to put the bad air to his back. “You’re going to owe me for this, you know. This place is disgusting,” he muttered to that voice.
Don’t worry, you’ll be rewarded. You always are, right?
“Yeah, I’m sure. A few scraps until the next job. You can be such a slavemaster, sometimes, mistress, ” he answered back, a bit harder intonation at the last word, as if he was choking on it a bit, and spitting it out.
Just do your job.
He kept on moving down the tunnel, the path barely lit from the entrance behind him, as he reached the first turn. He peered around the corner, through more dust and some cobwebs, and squinted, trying to see down to the end. “It looks empty,” he said simply, before starting down the new path. A rumbling came from above him, and his eyes peered up to the ceiling. “I hope this thing’s stronger than it looks. I don’t really want to die in here, as much as it would frustrate you.” He smirked, and somehow she saw that, despite being over a league away.
And you like it when I’m frustrated, don’t you?
“Very much so.” He was practically grinning to himself now.
Suddenly he felt a surge race through his brain, and he gasped, jumping up, as if his backside were on fire. “Ok! Ok! I get it!”
Yeah, that’s what you always say. Now get going.
“Sheesh.” He advanced further down the tunnel, pushing large tufts of cobweb out of his way. He grumbled even more, when the tunnel’s ceiling dropped down further, forcing him to belly crawl on the floor to fit. He grasped the hem of his cloak about him, and shimmied into the small opening, wincing a bit, as the floor became wet with some foul liquid, helping him slip through easier, but soaking into the fabric of his cloak. “Ugh. This is going to stink for a week!”
And then he heard it – softly at first, growing steadily louder. Chittering, and clawed footsteps. Getting closer, if his ears weren’t deceiving him. And not just one set of footsteps.
Frantically, he doubled his efforts to get through the narrow passage he was now wedged into, wriggling in the tightness, like a worm trying to move through packed earth. He could see the end of the tunnel approaching, still a way off, but lit, and bright compared to his surroundings. Behind him, the clawing and noises grew louder, and the chittering had changed suddenly to hissing, and he could smell foul air entering his part of the tunnel, making him cough.
Finally, the tunnel opened up, and he became free of his confines, once again able to run. He glanced back over his shoulder, and caught the glimpse of a pair of shiny red eyes, seeming to glow in the dim light of tunnel, and sharp white fangs beneath them, snapping out as the creature tried to lunge forward at that same small passage, its head barely able to squeeze into that narrow bottleneck. He smirked, then sniffed once more, making him wrinkle his nose in disgust, before turning away and dashing down the remainder of the passage, his cloak streaming out behind him. Emerging from the tunnel, he found himself in a massive chamber, with a ceiling barely visible from his low vantage. Sunlight diffused into the chamber through a hole in that ceiling, which further complicated his estimation of the chamber’s dimensions. A large stone platform took up the center of the chamber, directly beneath the sunlit aperture. Looking around quickly to assess his new surroundings, he said, “I’ve arrived in the chamber, mistress.”
Yes, I see that. Now, get up there, and get me what I asked for.
He looked around, again, taking stock, before deciding on a promising looking wooden scaffold, propped against one wall of the chamber, as his means for ascending. He ran over to the one of the four posts forming the base the scaffold, and pushed himself against it, wedging himself between it and the wall. Trying to put his back into it, he pushed on the wall with both feet. “A little help?”, he grunted, straining, the wooden structure moving very slowly toward the center dais, a loud grinding sound echoing through the chamber, as the posts scraped along the stone floor.
Oh, you try to frustrate me, but I don’t get to return the favor?
He continued to struggle to move the scaffold away from the wall. “Do you want this done or not?”, he snapped back, his voice straining with exertion.
Very well. Don’t say I don’t do anything for you.
Another surge filled his brain, and he stared at the base of the scaffold. Suddenly, the scaffold shot forward, and slammed into the side of the dais noisily, shaking the floor beneath his feet. He winced, murmuring, “Subtle. Very subtle,” before approaching the base of the scaffolding and beginning to climb up. It was not a short climb, but the structure made it easier to scale, and before he knew it, he was on the plateau of stone that filled the middle of the large space.
He looked around atop the dais, and saw a variety of objects littering its surface. Great urns, with mysterious contents he could not see were scattered about the expanse, along with large feathers, from what could only be large, great birds. Piled high on one side of the dias, was a repository of large scrolls, laid out side-by-side. He rushed over to them, and scanned over the large seals which kept them bound tightly shut. Spotting one in blue of a great talon, he grasped it, and slid it over the small pack on his back. “I’ve got it. Now, to get the…” A loud crash behind him interrupted his report, and his eyes went wide. One of the large, red-eyed, furry creatures from the tunnel was snarling at him, approaching, stalking him, its large tail snaking behind it menacingly. “Oh, great…”
It leaped at him, and he dove to the side, falling flat on his stomach, the large scroll on his back making it hard to twist and turn. He scrambled on all fours, to the center of the table, and tried to regain his footing. From the scaffold, he saw yet another large, red-eyed, sharp-toothed head hissing at him. The second creature climbed onto the table, and the two creatures circled him, eying him, looking for the right moment to pounce. The first shot towards him, and he wrenched himself out of the way, causing the creature to fly past, barreling into one of the urns, toppling it, spilling its murky black contents onto the stone in a pool. Distracted, he didn’t see the other, which pounced on his back, dropping him prone again, and the creatures teeth snapped at his head. He squirmed, and the fangs tore the hood of his cloak, shredding it, the cloak’s tie at his neck pulling his body backwards. He gasped for air, as he scrambled frantically for traction on the stone surface.
Thunder rang through the room, and a gust from one side of the chamber knocked the creature off him. Not waiting to see what had happened, he scrambled towards the edge of the dais and jumped, catching onto a craggy stone surface – the wall of the chamber. He scrambled up the surface, pulling himself up onto the ledge above and cursed, finding himself with his back against against a large wooden wall, barring the entrance to a large portal. He could see bits of sunlight through the imperfections in the wood, but a quick test with his shoulder proved the wall to be immovable.
The creatures, meanwhile, had started racing around the dais, driven to a frenzy by the thunder. A second urn toppled from the dais to the chamber floor, shattering on the stone, more viscous black fluid pooling beneath the shards of clay. A number of the scrolls had been strewn over the dais and the floor below, crushed and mangled in the chaos. A giant presence revealed itself from across the chamber, with a loud, booming voice which filled the room. In his fear, the voice was unintelligible, and he reached desperately into his small pack, drawing out a large silver hoop. He inhaled sharply, and drew the hoop up about his waist.
The presence followed the creatures, who appeared to be racing back towards the tunnel from which they came, clawing at each other as they both attempted to fit into the tunnel at the same time. A sudden flash of light – and the creatures, both in the mouth of the tunnel, ceased to move, black wisps of smoke rising from their corpses. The presence turned towards him.
He screamed, “Mistress!”, his back pressed against the wooden barrier, eyes clenched shut in fear. Another sudden surge shot through his mind – he shrieked and the barrier suddenly gave way behind him. Air buffeted about him, and as he opened his eyes, seeing the blue of the sky before him, he yelped in surprise. Shards of the broken barrier were falling about him, as he plummeted toward the earth far below. He grasped the hoop about his waist tightly and yelled, “Alarielle!”
The silver hoop glowed in his grasp, and his falling immediately slowed. He outstretched his arms and began to glide down, escaping the mysterious presence behind him, as it cast a large shadow down over him from the ledge he had just fallen from. He continued to float down, gliding across the large lake that had surrounded the compound that had housed his quarry. He whooped in triumph, feeling smug as he finally reached the ground just beyond the lake. He made his way through the dense foliage, away from the lake, and quickly ran to his mistress’ meeting point.
Well done, Mortimer. The letter you have just retrieved will be well received by the Circle. You have earned your reward.
Mortimer scampered out of the foliage, looking extremely pleased with himself, and ran to his waiting mistress, climbing into her outstretched hand. She gently picked up her familiar, relieved him of the scroll, and put him on her shoulder. “Phew, you stink,” she mentioned to him, as she began walking down the dirt road away from where Mortimer had appeared..
“And whose fault is that?”, he retorted. “This is going to cost you double.” He tried to shake out some of the mess from his mottled fur, to no avail. He sighed in frustration.
She laughed and reached into a pouch, bringing up a large kernel of dried corn, holding it up to the cloaked guinea pig on her shoulder. “Perhaps, but you’re the one that needs a bath. And give me back my bracelet.”
Grumbling, he nodded to her, grabbed the kernel, and nibbled on it, shuddering at the prospect of the wet evening to come.
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