Friday, May 18, 2012

Interlude - The Unexpected Rendezvous

Hermel began to make his way down the dark corridor, using his hand to run along the wall on his right. The further away from the Machine Room the darker it became until he could no longer see his hand in front of his face. He stumbled over some rubble, and the going was slow. Eventually he came to the gap where that long side corridor was, down which he had heard the voices before. He now heard the distant sound of chipping, or digging, echoing up from the long dark corridor.

Facing the gate, he used his hand to guide himself  along the far wall past the corridor, and onward toward the gate. His intention was to find the ladder that led up to the now smoldering ruin of a barn outside. He stopped several times to listen. He could hear the distant sound of digging, but once past the tunnel entrance the sound grew more faint until he was far enough away so that he could no longer hear it. The only sound he heard was the whoosh of a wind that flowed past him in the cold darkness. As he was inching along slowly reaching forward with his right hand while running his left hand along the wall, he came to the gate. The iron bars felt cold to his touch. Moving from left to right slowly, making no noise, he touched each cold iron bar, but he could not find any opening.

“The gate has been sealed,” he thought to himself angrily.

From behind his head he heard a woman's voice.

"The Boss has sent me to come fetch you, and bring you down to him. If you resist, I'm ordered to kill you,” she said bluntly. Somehow Hermel knew that he’d heard this voice before, but he couldn’t quite place it. She sounded deadly serious.

“Oh, which boss is that? The real boss, or the head of security?” he asked with a casual, almost friendly tone.

"Oh, it's you... the guy from the Inn...," she said, surprised. In a flash Hermel recognized her voice as that of the red haired woman with the black skullcap who he’d encountered the first night at the Inn.

After a pause she continued; “He's the Boss of the Guards... Chief of a band of Outlaws who were hired to handle security and keep a lid on the operation, I guess. He’s something of a savage, but shrewd and efficient. Apparently you may know something of particular interest to him about what has been found down in the mine, so he sent me up to fetch you," she concluded, though he sensed a subtle hesitation in her voice. What he thought might have been an almost friendly intonation had crept in.

"Let's move," she said suddenly back to the same hard tone she’d first had. In the darkness Hermel felt the cold steel point of a dagger prod him. Realizing that he was at a distinct disadvantage until he could see, and that he was apparently more valuable alive at the moment, he calmly said, "Oh, the red headed girl from the Inn. I was wondering if something happened to you. I never expected you to happen to me instead. Sure, let's go for a stroll. You're quiet as a cat, by the way. Uh, which way? Unlike you, I don't have cat eyes, and I know that there's a drop off ahead."

She paused. Hermel got the impression that she had smiled. Maybe it was his wonderfully fertile imagination, but he didn’t think so somehow.

"I can see well enough in the dark," she said in a voice that sounded a bit warmer than before. "I won't let you drop, don't worry," she addd with a playful sounding laugh. When she made that sound Hermel heard what he thought sounded like an angry little whistle about two to four feet away from him to the left, and something, a dragonfly, or a bat, maybe a bird, fluttered by his head and then flitted away.  It happened too quickly for him to get a bead on whatever it was.   It vanished into the darkness.

"I wonder if you realize how much trouble you're in right now...” she was saying. “I don't think you do. The Boss is a notorious, ruthless and cunning criminal. Once you tell him everything you know, and he'll torture you to find out for sure I don’t doubt, you're usefulness to him will have come to an end... and that will be that for you. On the other hand..." she went on, seeming to be thinking out loud, "...if you told me what you know, I could tell him it was too late and that you escaped before I could get up here... it might make him mad as hell, but he wouldn't kill me, I don't think..."

She stopped.

"What do you know about what's been found in the mine?" she asked, the point of the dagger digging slightly into his back.

“Did you hear that?” asked Hermel. He was still worried about the whistling noise which he heard again, though further away this time.

"Hear what?" she asked, a small tone of worry in her voice.

"Never mind," Hermel replied. Perhaps it was his imagination, going a bit wild in the darkness.

"At any rate, I'm not that stupid. I know what kind of trouble that I'm in, but it seems, as usual, that I am not in control of my own life anymore," Hermel said with regret. "The funny thing is, I didn't even want to come back here, but my companions saw the fire and wanted to help." After a pause he continued, "I have other people that I need to help, ...and what you do in this mine is your business.... So I have no problem telling you what I know about this mine," Hermel went on in a low voice. "However, like I said, I have things to do that must get done, and for all I know, you could be the Boss, and there's no harm in killing me to keep your little secret safe..." Hermel drifts off and shook his head.

"I'm rambling," he said more to himself than her. "Ok.  Here's the deal, open this gate, and get me into the light by the ladder where I have a fighting chance. The way I see it, on this side of the bars, I'm a dead man. I'm either going to fight you here and now, and probably lose unless I get lucky, or I'm going to be tortured and die later. Heck, your blade is probably poisoned too. Open this gate, lead me to some light so I've got a reason to believe that you'll let me go...  I'll tell you what I know, and then it's up to you. You can draw first blood, and then we fight to the end, or you can let me go, but, after you hear what I have to say, you may just want to leave with me."

"Then again, there's always plan B, but that's risky, and both of us will die, but it's better than dying alone... or torture," Hermel added, with a hint of dry humor.

She paused and thought it over. There was the click of a lock and then the sound of the iron gate being swung open, which was surprisingly quiet (it was well oiled and exceptionally well crafted). As this happened something fluttered past him again, and flew off down the tunnel ahead of them.   He thought he heard something moving along behind them as they walked, but at this point he was chalking everything up to 'nerves'.

"Come quickly," she said and leading Hermel through the dark. After twenty or thirty feet she turned him to the left.  "There are ten feet of stairs going up, be careful."

When they got to the top of the stairs, to his great relief, he could see the rubble strewn corridor, at the end of which was a shaft of light.  At the far end was the broken ladder going up the side of the wall. On the fourth rung of the ladder he noticed a small yellow canary is sitting there preening. Before they got any further, where there was just enough light for him to see, the woman stopped and turned him around.

"Ok," she said, "this is far as I go. At least for now.  Tell me what you know about the mine."

When he turned around he could barely see the silhouette of the woman. She was wearing a black leather skullcap, her long wavy red hair flowing out from beneath. Her pretty face had a tense expression, her lips tight, her stance ready for action.

Behind her he could dimly see the silhouette of another figure crouching on the stairs, a sword and shield in hand, and not looking entirely human for some reason. She had her back to the figure, but he noticed that she was holding one hand up behind her that suggested she had gestured for the fighter to stay where he was, which he did. In a moment the dark figure seemed to blend into the darkness and Hermel could not see him any more.

Hermel rested his back against the stone of the corridor wall, and gave a half smile and chuckle, "Oh, hello there," he said as he nodded in the direction of the hidden figure and sighed, "Well, I asked for a fighting chance. I didn't ask for a good chance. I'll keep my word."

He slicked his hair back, perhaps for the last time, squared his shoulders and said, "I would have told you this without threats: Whatever relics you find in the mines, at least those with magical or religious power, are very old. They might date back as far as the Elder Elkron. Some, if not all of them, are evil and their presence can be felt if you're skilled in that sort of thing. Some can see a dull yellow glow that shines on nothing."

After a distinct pause, Hermel added, "That's all, but this bit is free, and just some friendly advice. I think there's a reason why this place is buried and forgotten. No good can come from it in the long run. In fact, I'll wager that the explosion was no accident, even if it appeared to be. Leave these things alone, or you'll regret it. Besides, the salt is worth enough as is. If the two can be kept apart, it might be worth it, but I doubt it."

Hermel took a deep breath, shifted his cloak back, slid one foot back and placed a hand on the hilt of his broadsword, tilting it her way, ready to draw and attack if necessary.

"Okay, it was nice seeing you again, but it's time for me to go, one way or another, and quite frankly, the suspense is killing me," he said, expecting anything.

She stepped backwards and faded into the darkness as she said; "I may have misjudged you at first. Thanks for the advice. Maybe I'll see you around sometime."

And with that she turned the corner at the bottom of the stairs and was gone.

Previous Episode:Canary in the Salt Mine
Next Episode:Flight From Unicorn Vale

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