The revenants did not pursue us outside the cluster of chambers. This was good as we had to dodge a couple dwerro search parties and a torch is not the easiest light source to hide. By the time we reached an area we started to recognize, the first torch was close to burning out and we had to light the second (and last) torch off of it.
We entered the laboratory through the side door the dwerro had ambushed us from. Aurelius referred to the room as a “Laboratory” in his journal, but never mentioned what they were researching – I’m guessing magical weapons. There were two large furnaces at one end of the chamber and something Aurelius referred to as a “cold forge” at the other end. It looked similar to the two main forges, but was empty of ash or anything else. There were several anvils of various sizes and made of different materials around the room. In the center, right next to a prominent lever was a large pile of debris and crushed or collapsed stone. Somewhere under that eight-foot tall pile was my everburning torch. Twenty feet above the floor the pile of debris rested on was a circular opening about ten feet in diameter, leading to the collapsed upper chamber.
“So,” Fadeyka said, “How do we get up there with debris on everything? And will the treasure still be accessible?”
“I’m not certain yet,” I said sitting down on one of the larger anvils. “The falling debris caught me by surprise at first and then the attacking dwerro kept me from taking a closer look afterward.” I took off my haversack and started pulling some food out of it. “I think we should take a break and eat while we think it over.”
Fadeyka thought about it and then said, “Let me close and brace this door and I’ll join you.” She closed the door we had just entered through and used a broken beam from the rubble to brace the door. It wouldn’t keep the door permanently closed, but we’d get some warning if anyone tried to force it.
It had been something like eight hours since we ate breakfast, so we were both hungry. Fadeyka sat on the lip of the forge next to the anvil I was leaning on. The forge lip looked easier to set food out on, so I joined her. Plus, she might still have an apple left and I was hoping to talk her into sharing it or trading for some of the cheese.
While we ate, we both looked over the problem before us: how to get up into the upper room. “How stable do you thing the edge of the hole is,” I asked.
Fadeyka looked closer at the lip of the hole in the ceiling. “Seems stable,” she replied. “But we can’t see the debris on the upper lever clearly. It might be loose.”
“Fair point,” I said. “Think we could use an improvised grappling hook and pull ourselves up?”
“Probably. I take it you don’t have an actual grappling hook in your haversack?” There was some amusement in her voice.
“Not this trip – I was planning on using the lift.”
“Hmph,” she said. She looked at where the lift was buried by debris. “What about the lift? Might it still be working?”
“That’s a good question.” I looked over at the lever. “I only pulled it to open the ceiling – I never actually engaged the lift itself.” I thought for a moment. “But there’s no way it could lift all that debris.”
“Epikydes, it’s dwarven-made. If it’s still functioning, I bet it could lift twice that weight.”
“Really,” I said, drawing out the word. “Willing to bet that apple on it?”
Fadeyka looked at the apple she was about to eat and then looked at me, one eyebrow raised. “Are you serious?” written all across her face.
“Hey, you’re the one with all the dwarven knowledge,” I stated. “I’m just wondering if you’re willing to put your apple where your mouth is.” It sounded much better in my head than after I said it out loud.
Fadeyka snickered and then laughed at me. I shrugged at her – what else could I do. “I’ll see your bet and raise you,” she countered. “If the lift works, I get all the apples for the next two days, otherwise you get them.”
“Hmm, I don’t know – that’s a lot of apples,” I said, trying not to grin. “Throw in that apple and you’ve got yourself a bet.” This was silly as the apples were part of the food provided by the traveler’s feast ritual and we could always get more.
“Deal,” she said, sticking out her hand. I shook it and then we both chuckled.
We finished eating the rest of the food (minus the bet apple) and then went over to lever by the pile of debris. We both looked around at the debris and the opening in the ceiling. After a couple of minutes, Fadeyka said, “Debris falling off while the lift rises doesn’t invalidate the bet nor cause me to lose.”
“Agreed,” I replied. “Nor does clearing out a place to stand while operating the lever,” I conceded.
“Thank you,” she answered and we moved some of the debris near the lever so we could safely stand on the lifting platform and operate the lever. Once that was done there was nothing left to do but stand on the platform and move the lever into the lift position. We were both a bit hesitant after the disaster of the last attempt to operate the lift.
I sighed. “I’ll operate it. Do you want to be on the platform or off.”
“On,” she said while stepping into place. “I only bet that it would lift once, not twice.”
“Fair enough.” I stepped over next to Fadeyka and prepared to move the lever. “Here we go,” I said and then moved the lever in the way described in Aurelius’s journal.
At first, nothing happened. I looked over at Fadeyka with a raised eyebrow, but she held up a hand and said, “Wait.”
Shortly after that I felt a tremor in the floor and a circular portion of the floor started to rise. Slowly. Pieces of rubble started shifting and spilling off the side, raising up a cloud of dust. Then there was a grinding noise and the platform jerked suddenly and we both started wind-milling our arms to stay standing. The platform was ten feet up now and only rising in fits and starts, while the grinding sound from below the floor was getting louder.
“This is going to call the dwerro,” I half-yelled to be heard over the noise.
Fadeyka looked up and half-yelled back, “Just a little farther and we’ll be OK.”
I looked up and saw the ceiling slowly approaching us. Then the platform slipped and fell a foot, nearly shaking me off. A lot of the debris on the platform bounced and crashed and slid off the platform. There was metallic tearing sound and then the platform started rising again, the whole thing shaking. “I have a really bad feeling about this,” I yelled. It was difficult to remain standing while holding onto the torch. My grip on the lever was rapidly becoming a liability as the whole apparatus shook and rose in short jerks.
“I think you’re right,” Fadeyka yelled back. She put the nightvision goggles back on and then unhooked her chain sickle, looking up at the gap in the ceiling. Just as the platform suddenly tilted to one side, she spun the sickle in a short arc and cast it upwards.
I was suddenly holding on to the lever for dear life as the platform tilted away from me and dropped two feet, all the debris sliding towards the far edge. Fadeyka was dangling from her chain sickle, the sickle end caught on the lip above. “Hang on,” she yelled at me over the din as she started climbing.
I said some choice words under my breath and then stepped back, doing my best to balance on the edge of the now-empty platform, which was still trying to rise from the floor. Unstable didn’t begin to describe the situation as whatever the platform was part of started to rotate as well as rise and shake. With the top now off center, I was starting to get a very close look at the ceiling. If this thing kept rising while I wasn’t under the opening, I could learn how a bug feels when it gets stepped on.
Fadeyka climbed up out of my line of sight, through the opening in the ceiling. The platform started shaking a lot and I decided I couldn’t wait any longer. I dropped the torch into the room, away from the debris so it hopefully wouldn’t get smothered. I caught my balance just enough to get my feet under me and jumped at the dangling portion of Fadeyka’s chain sickle. My timing was good twice – I leapt just as the platform cracked and fell to one side with a thunderous crash, filling the room with rock dust, and I caught the chain.
Fadeyka called out, “Epikydes?”
“Still here,” I answered in a tight voice. I was trying not to breathe in too much of the rock dust. A coughing fit while swinging on the chain would only lead to an uncontrolled fall onto a broken surface.
“Try not to swing the chain so much – you’re working the sickle loose,” Fadeyka called down.
“Well I’ll just flap my wings a bit to steady myself then, won’t I?” I called back sarcastically.
“Wait. You have wings? Why didn’t you mention that earlier? You could have flown up here and not messed with the platform at all.” Fadeyka was also being sarcastic, but it also sounded like she was doing something while talking. I did my best to dampen the swinging I was doing, but there is only so much you can do when hanging at the end of a chain. After a moment, she called out, “Hold on tight!”
The chain suddenly jerked sideways a bit. If she hadn’t warned me, there is a very good chance my grip would have slipped right then and I would have fallen.
“OK, I’ve steadied it as best I can,” she called out, some strain in her voice. You need to climb up now.” After a pause she added, “Quickly!”
Remember that huge chain I was climbing down to rescue Fadeyka from the dwerro? It had these huge links, each the size of my fist. This provided plenty of very usable grips along the entire length. Fadeyka’s chain sickle? Small little links, barely the size of a peanut. Plus they were periodically oiled, so pretty slick. While I’m very acrobatic, climbing is not my stronge suit. On the other hand, a 20-foot fall into sharp broken rubble as the alternative is an excellent motivator. I took as deep a breath as the rock dust allowed and started climbing.
Climbing the first three feet of chain was slow. The chain was slightly slippery to begin with, my sweaty hands were now making the climb…challenging. At the three-foot mark, I reached the point where the chain touched the ceiling. I pulled my body up under me and bracketed the weight on the end of the chain with my feet, allowing me to support my weight there instead of with my arms. I paused a moment to catch my breath and rest my arms a bit.
Looking up, I could see the three more feet of chain pulled taut against the rock surface that separated the chamber above from the one below. At the top of that was the hand-sickle part of Fadeyka’s chain sickle. A strap was wrapped around it, holding the sickle against the stone face. It took me a moment to recognize it as the arm strap from Fadeyka’s backpack.
It also caused a different thought in my head. The falling debris should have knocked out the torch and yet I could see. I looked down for the source of the light and saw a small, guttering light peeking out from one of the rubble piles. I looked back up and called out, “Good news!”
“What?” Fadeyka asked, some strain in her voice.
“I found the everburning torch!”
That got a snort from Fadeyka. “Congratulations. Now finish climbing up here. I can’t hold the sickle in place forever.”
Using my tenuous foothold on the end weight, I straightened my legs and stood up on it, gripping the chain above me as best I could. This left my head just below the lip of the floor above. I put my arms over the top and started feeling around for a good grip to pull myself up with. There was a lot of loose debris. At one point I found Fadeyka’s foot, braced against a slight lip around the opening.
“How are you doing that?” she asked. “You don’t really have wings do you? I thought you were being sarcastic.”
“I was,” I replied. “I’m standing on the end weight.”
“Ah, that explains it,” Fadeyka said. “Any chance of you getting up here soon?”
I had finally found a good grip and planted my hands. “Yes. Hold on to the sickle for just a bit longer.” I then bent down slightly and vaulted up and over my hands, flipping over onto my back, right next to Fadeyka…and onto several very sharp and painful pieces of rubble. “Ow,” was all I said. I may have said it several times.
Fadeyka sat forward, unhooked her backpack strap from the sickle and pulled the chain sickle up. She had been sitting, bracing her feet while leaning back and pulling on the backpack strap to keep the sickle from slipping free.
I judiciously rolled over to one side so I could at least sit upright. The debris pile I was on shifted slightly as I moved and smaller pieces and dust slid down and over the edge, dropping to the floor below. While my back hurt from being jabbed in multiple places by the debris, my armored jacket kept any of it from puncturing me.
As we were catching our breath, Fadeyka looked over to me with a grin and said, “I win the apples.” This caught me off-guard and all I could do was laugh. She joined in.
The noise of the platform failing and collapsing did draw the dwerro. Luckily for us it had all collapsed right onto the door, blocking it. We could hear them banging on the door for a while, trying to force it. There were two other doors to the laboratory, but it would take a little while for the dwerro to circle around. Once it sounded like they were doing that, Fadeyka and I quickly explored the chamber we were now in.
At one point in the past the dwarves must have used it as storage for forge materials. There were coal hoppers for several grades of coal (according to what Fadeyka could read on the labels) and various metal ingots on shelves. When the ceiling above collapsed, it crushed down on the upper portions of the shelving and hoppers. Debris had filled the spaces between the shelves and the open space for the platform, but there were some relatively clear areas in the corners and on the lowest shelves where chunks of the ceiling failed to completely crush the vertical shelf supports.
This was lucky on our part as the entire reason we were here resided in one of those corners. We carefully climbed over the debris to one of the sheltered corners and I consulted Aurelius’s journal, one of the pages with extensive notes in dagger-script. There was just barely enough light here for me to read by.
Satisfied we were in the correct corner of the chamber, I turned to Fadeyka. “This is the correct place,” I said. “The next question is: do we get the treasure now or rest for a while and then get the treasure? I favor resting first, so if the dwerro get up here they won’t know there’s treasure.”
Fadeyka thought about it a bit and then said, “You’re concerned they may have a way up here and we may have a repeat of the last time.”
“Actually, I’m more concerned with them learning there’s a hidden safe up here,” I replied. “Keeping that secret is almost as important as what’s in it, especially if any of the delft are going to show up.”
“Why,” Fadeyka asked.
“Because…,” I started and then stopped. I had good reasons, but I also had good reasons for keeping them a secret. “Because it’s guild business,” I finally answered.
Fadeyka leaned back slightly, one eyebrow raised. “Guild business,” she stated with a tone of skepticism in her voice.
“Yes, guild business,” I repeated. I was unhappy keeping the secret from Fadeyka, but I wasn’t certain how much I should tell her.
Fadeyka was looking at me in a considering way. She was still wearing the goggles, but I had the definite impression she was looking at all the throwing stars and daggers I carried on my person and the kinds of magical gear I carried. “What kind of guild do you belong to, Epikydes?” She seemed to have come to an answer of her own, one she did not like.
And that was a question I was not ready to answer. At least not just yet. So I decided to defer. “I can’t give you all the specifics, but it’s an old guild that requires members to keep all of its secrets. I can’t say more than that right now.”
Fadeyka clearly did not like that answer but decided to not push the point anymore. “Then I think we need to get the treasure and get some distance from here. Secret or no secret, if we wait until the dwerro get organized or just get larger numbers, we’ll be trapped up here and they will eventually work out a way to get to us.”
I was very relieved to get past the issue of what kind of guild I belonged to. I trusted Fadeyka and did not like keeping secrets from her. “OK, I’ll open it.” I paused, realizing how bad my next words were going to sound. “Um, I need you to turn around and face the other way.”
“What?” Fadeyka’s voice went up in volume on that word.
“I need you to turn around and look the other way while I open the vault.” I had a definite sinking feeling.
“Why, Epikydes?” she asked with some definite wariness in her voice. “Why do I need to turn my back to you?”
I sighed. I wasn’t past the point of which guild after all. "I can't tell you," I said. "Guild secrets are involved."
Fadeyka was clearly angry now. "Which guild," Fadeyka demanded. “Which guild do you belong to?” When it was clear I wasn't going to answer, she crossed her arms and said, "Epikydes, if we are going any further on this, I need to know which guild you are working for. If you won't tell me, then we are done here."
Looking at her face, I could tell she was angry about this and was really serious about not turning around. I sighed again and reflexively looked around to see if anyone else was listening – a pointless thing to do here, but some habits die hard. "The Imperial Cartographer's Guild," I said quietly.
Fadeyka blinked several times, clearly surprised by my answer. "The who?"
"The Imperial Cartographer's Guild," I replied slightly louder in a more disgruntled voice.
Her crossed arms came down slightly and her head cocked slightly to one side. "Epikydes, the Empire fell over 400 years ago and there hasn't been an Imperial Guild of any sort since the fall of the False Dynasty 150 years ago."
I stared at her for a moment and then reached into an interior pocket of my vest, under my armored coat. I withdrew a small bundle wrapped in soft leather and then unwrapped it, exposing a silver badge of office. I held it up so she could see. "You are mostly correct. Virtually all of the remaining Imperial Guilds were destroyed or abolished after they backed the False Dynasty's bid for power. But NOT the Imperial Cartographer's Guild."
Fadeyka nearly laughed at my pronouncement. "Look, Epikydes" Fadeyka said, barely containing her mirth, "Just because you found an old guild badge somewhere doesn't make you a member of that guild."
"Maybe, maybe not, but it will when I re-found the guild." I was slightly nervous when I said that – it was the first time I had voiced my desire to re-found the Imperial Cartographer's Guild out loud.
Fadeyka outright laughed at my statement. Loudly. For a while. I could feel the blush burning my cheeks while she laughed at me.
After a while, she was able to catch her breath enough to ask, "What...what makes you think it's a real badge?"
Rather than try and explain it to her, I simply turned to the wall and slid my guild badge into a concealed slot. Once it was inside, several mechanical sounds could be heard and then a four-foot square section of wall was outlined in light. Slowly and silently, that section of wall swung open, revealing it to be three feet thick. Behind this door was a small vault containing a couple chests, several bags of coins, and some glowing gems set in niches on the sides.
I turned back to Fadeyka and said, "Because it opens Imperial Cartographer's Guild emergency vaults." She was no longer laughing.
Copyright Patrick J. Walsh 2014. All rights reserved.