Chapter Six Dungeons and Tunnels
“Though I followed the others upstairs I wondered why we were going on this venture. But surprisingly it wasn’t I who voiced this concern.”
As they toiled up the stairs to the first landing they all felt fear gnawing at them. Stomachs churned and cold sweat ran down there backs.
The first landing split the dark hall into two, each side with five rooms.
“Remind me why we are doing this again.” Chirped Hanna. “Because if I’m expected to go down a dark corridor to confront who knows what on my own I’d like to know the reason for this folly before I die.”
“Really Hanna isn’t it obvious.” Tesler started to say before petering out with a glance for help at Serin.
“We have been put in the top most rooms when there must be empty rooms down here. I for one want to know why and find out what happened to the occupiers.” Serin said clearly. “It might also give us a clue as to the owner of that dammed wall.”
“Oh fine. I just thought I’d ask before I go down this corridor alone.”
“I was going to suggest splitting our resources but Hanna is right none of us should do it alone.” Tesler Agreed. “We will split into two groups of three, Hanna and Lorren with me and Horren and Darius with you Serin dear. Is that alright?”
Serin smiled and agreed that that was the best solution.
Tesler led her group away up the stairs to the next landing as Serin led hers into the dark corridor.
She reached the first door and knocked loudly but no one answered from within.
Cautiously she opened the door and stared into the blackness beyond. After a few moments her eyes adjusted to the darkness and she could see dark shapes of furniture and the drawn hangings at the window.
Quietly she tiptoed across to the curtains and pulled them back to reveal the room in all its glory as the early morning sun light flooded the room and immediately Serin wished it hadn’t as what is revealed made her feel sick.
The walls were covered in dry blood from the emaciated body huddled on the floor by the bed. The face was a bloody ruin from where the woman had clawed out her eyes and cut herself to ribbons in an orgy of self hatred and fear.
“Oh Earth Mother.” Horren muttered as she saw the carnage.
“I wonder if she was a loser from the wall downstairs.” Serin offered as she heard a cry of revulsion from Darius in the room opposite.
“Horren my love check on our bow woman while I search in here.” Serin asked but she had barely gone a few steps before Darius appeared at the doorway.
“I think the pair of you should come and see this.” The woman looked white from shock.
Horren was the first into the room and recoiled in horror at the blood splattered scene. Decapitated limbs and chunks of torso were scattered everywhere while lying silently in the bed was the skeletal form of a woman. Serin crossed over to where the body lay stepping carefully to avoid several bloody body parts. The corpse was of a youngish woman and it was evident she had been staved to death. Her hands and feet were bound to the bed so she could not move in the position called the lovers tryst. Serin bent over her to shut her eyes. The corpse shot upright with a piercing scream as the ropes that bound her cut off her hands before falling quite dead onto the bed once more.
A shaken Darius led the three of them out of the room.
“What is going on here? Have we died and gone to hell?” Darius cursed as they moved to the next room.
“No. This isn’t a spiritual hell but one of a man’s making.” Serin replied knocking at the next door before entering.
The room was pleasantly furnished and there on the bed were the lovers. Both of them were naked sitting facing each other, the woman sitting on top of his thighs her arms around his neck in the position of intercourse.
They were much younger than before but still as oblivious of their surroundings.
Serin was about to shut the door quietly when something caught her eye and made her change her mind.
“Come back Serin.” Horren whispered as her lover entered the room.
Having no other option she and Darius followed her into the room.
“Look at this.” Serin called pointing not at the lovers but at the wall opposite.
It was then that Horren realised what she was looking at for there on the wall was a full sized painting of the lovers making love. The details were so brilliantly rendered that it appeared totally life like.
Serin crossed to where they originally seen the pair of them revealing a mirror that covered the entire wall, another was fixed to the ceiling. On a bedside cabinet were lotions and potions to increase the libido along with some sexually orientated toys.
“Have you noticed something?” Serin asked pulling out the laundry presses draws. “None of them have any clothes in the room or their bags and carryalls. Except for what is on the top surfaces there are no personal items at all.”
“Do you mean that they have been stolen?” Darius asked as she opened and checked a casket in the corner of the room.
“I don’t know what I mean at the moment but I find it curious that’s all.” Serin replied distractedly and led them out, unaware that the faces in the painting had turned to watch them go.
The next room held a surprise of a different sort.
At first glance it looked empty but Horren had noticed a few lumps and bumps under the animal skins that covered the room and carefully pealed them back.
In the floor were six grills which were very familiar to Horren.
“They’re oubliettes, tiny dungeons just big enough for someone to squat in, set in the ground. I saw them in use to hold drunks and whores and the like when I was in the Deuch Conglomerate with our ambassador.” She said staring at the heavy slate tiles that covered the room. “I don’t understand. For one thing there is no way the floor could take the weight of these tiles and for another where can those dungeons go? The common room is just below us and I think we would notice dungeon cells sticking through the ceiling don’t you.”
“Come and look out of the window?” Serin asked her.
What Horren saw were not the hills and valleys of Dyffid but the mighty mountains and pine forests of the Conglomerate.
But more surprises were to come and not all of them pleasant.
“There’s someone in this one.” Called Darius as she knelt, painfully, beside the cell in the centre and began trying to break open the lock with her knife, with little sign of any success.
“Let me have a look.” Horren helped her friend to her feet before gripping the lock in her hand. She concentrated and the lock aged and began to rust, she chanted and the chains turned to red dust, she called to the Earth Mother and the lock fell to pieces as age finally took its toll.
Cautiously they opened it only to find a very much alive Hanna looking up at them in shock. Reaching down Horren and Serin hauled their friend up. As soon as she was up the little woman dash round hugging everyone with out uttering a sound, which was more than can be said for the small figure of Hanna at the door.
“Move away from her.” Hanna called. “She’s a doppelganger. She’ll rip your throat out as soon as look at you.”
The little figure with the girls twisted around and stared at the newcomer.
“Don’t believe her she’s the doppelganger” She said pointing at the figure at the door.
“No I’m not she is!” Said the other one.
“No I’m not she is!” Yelled the one with the girls.
“Oh this is silly.” The one by the door sighed pointing her finger at her twin inside the room. Beam of light shot out of the fingers tip and illuminated the figure with the girls. In that beam stood a small featureless grey creature with an impressive set of fangs.
Darius reacted instantly sweeping at the creature with her blade. The creature danced aside with a high pitched giggle morphing into a small rat that dashed through their legs and out of the door.
For a moment there was silence before Hanna spoke again.
“Don’t blame yourself for being taken in by it. Doppelgangers are very convincing. But if you had allowed it to get close it would have killed and eaten you one by one.”
“What do you want me to do with this Horren?” Lorren said taking Hanna’s place at the door the doppelganger hanging squealing from its tail from her gloved hand.
“Let’s put it back shall we.” Horren spat furious at been taken in.
“But it will stave to death!” Serin protested.
“No it won’t, it can go without food for years.” Hanna took the beast in her hand and dropped it back into the dungeon. She closed the grate and fused two of the links together to keep it in.
“So you’ve finished your floor have you, and you though you’d help out. Didn’t work though did it all you did was get yourself into trouble.”
“What do you mean your floor, this is ours? We have only done four of our rooms so far.” Serin snorted.
“We’ve done the five of ours and went to join Tesler then I stumbled on you.” Horren was not sure if the little Dryad was joking or not so looked up at Lorren for confirmation.
“She is telling the truth.” Lorren confirmed.
“But that’s impossible you went upstairs. Wait a moment where is Tesler?” Serin asked.
“She took the other wing. Oh mother of life!” Hanna said as she realised.
“Quick!” Serin dashed out with a puzzled Horren hot on her heels.
“What’s wrong?” She called.
“If Hanna has done five and we have done four all on the same floor then there isn’t another wing at all.” Serin called a she sped down the hallway.
They ran and ran but seemed to get no nearer to the stairwell which seemed to recede with each step.
They came to a stop only to find they hadn’t moved at all, they were still outside the dungeon cells door.
Serin had her hands on her knees as she tried to get her breath back her face a worried frown as she tried to fathom out what to do next.
Horren looked across at the only unopened doorway that lay opposite before looking at the recovering Serin who caught her meaning and nodded.
The two women crossed the passageway and tried the door. It swung open easily and the pair entered only to have the door to slam shut behind them, and they sincerely wished it hadn’t for around the room where the three rejuvenated witches.
One of the young looking witches was combing the hair of another which on the face of it wasn’t that frightening save for the fact the hair wasn’t on the woman head.
The head had been detached from the body and scalped and sitting in the corner was the remaining of the witches scooping out with her fingers and eating the brain from it while the body lay slumped at her feet pooling blood.
They laughed at the women’s plight as their long tongues flicked and tasted the air.
With a cackle they launched themselves at Serin their jaws’ dislocating like a snake’s as they flew through the air.
But Serin hadn’t been idle. Drawing the two swords off her back she leaped into the air to meet their onrush. The swords cut a figure of eight in the air decapitating the flying figures before landing gently back on the floor.
But before she could move the heads swivelled on the floor and shot up to pin her arms against the wall with their jaws. The final scalped skull swivelled and launched itself screaming at Serin intent on tearing her throat out. Serin lent back on the wall and using the two pinning her, launched herself upward with a flying kick that impacted with corpses head shattering it. As she landed she dragged down the other skulls and swung them together bringing them in range of a stunned Horren’s ironwood club which smashed them to smithereens.
Breathing heavily they looked at each other with mounting horror as the bodies started reassembling themselves with cackling laughter.
Suddenly the door behind them exploded open.
“Out! Get out girls!” Tesler shouted hauling them backwards and slamming the door.
“Where did you come from Sister?” Horren panted while Serin looked around.
“Sorry?” Tesler was puzzled. “I want to know how you got up here before me and more importantly why?”
“Horren look it’s the second floor and this is the first door in the opposite wing.” Serin was studying everything intensely. “The others are still downstairs where we left them but the only way back to them is through that room.”
“Don’t be silly we’ll go down the stairs.” Tesler snorted.
“And we will end up back here.” Serin said her eyes widening with understanding. “The two east wings are linked as are the two west wings but once you are in a wing you can’t cross to the other save through a room, that room specifically.”
“I haven’t understood a word of that my child.” Tesler looked at Horren with a worried frown over Serin’s mental health.
“I don’t either but I know she is sane so trust her.”
“Which wing were you investigating Sister?” Serin asked a little franticly.
“Why the west wing while the others did the east girl!” Tesler was getting a little tetchy.
“We were doing the east wing too.” Serin explained. “Sister I need you to trust me like you have never done before. We must enter that room and engage those creatures again and then leave the room to where the others are waiting.”
“Very well even though I don’t understand a whit of it I trust you. To arms ladies.” The cleric pulled out a silvered headed mace out of her belt and positioned herself at the door.
“We’ll attack them Sister you concentrate on counting to ten before opening the door again.” Serin commanded.
“No Serin I know these creatures, they are immortal you can’t destroy them, but I can diminish them. Horren you do the counting.” Without further a do Tesler swung open the door and charged in ready to do battle with Serin and Horren just behind her. In the room the other three were fighting a rear guard action against the swooping witches.
Tesler came to a stop and let out a word so holy that it was wiped from the girls minds as soon as they heard it. The witches screamed and slamming their hands over their ears began shrinking in on themselves until three putrid black worms wriggled in agony on the floor. Working swiftly the nun pulled out a small bottle of Holy Water from her pouch and poured its contents over the creatures making them steam and bubble. In scant seconds the creatures were scooped up and deposited inside an empty oil lamp the stood on the dresser and where they were sealed in tight. They exploded filling it with a blue noxious looking vapour that swirled in constant agitation.
“What did you do Sister?” Horren asked shaking her head to clear it.
“I had to stun them before forcing them back into their basic form.” She tapped the side of the lamp. “They are a Djinn and highly dangerous.”
“All of you look out of the window?” Serin called.
Outside was a vista that was totally alien to all but one. Rolling dunes of blinding yellow sand shimmered in a heat haze that made the ground ripple like water, reflecting the sky. In the distance heavily wrapped people rode pass on strange horses with humps on their backs, the horses that is not the people.
Tesler smiled and opened the window letting a fierce heat into the room.
“Long time since I was in Ara, Land of the Sand Seas.” She took the lamp and threw it out so it landed with a soft thump in the sand, whereupon it sank, vanishing without leaving a trace. “They are back where they should be.”
She turned round to see all the women looking at her intently.
“Why do I get the feeling you know more than you’re telling us Holy Sister?” Serin asked her arms crossed and her right eyebrow rising quizzically.
“Your brother gave me a book about the legend of an old Albion Duke who called up three witches to predict his future. But they did it too well. They predicted he would become King but they also predicted his downfall consumed with guilt over his rise.” She paused.
“Are you telling me that those women came from a piece of fiction?” Serin asked incredulously.
“No not quite. All legends have a core of truth as this one had. The witches were part of a Djinn that was summoned inaccurately and split into three. That act drove it almost insane but how it got here I haven’t a clue.” Tesler sighed. “I did like that story.”
“Just as I like the legend of Lancelot.” Serin muttered.
“Sorry Serin?” Horren asked.
“Oh sorry, just thinking out loud.” She replied still deep in thought.
“I think it’s time to go don’t you girls?” Tesler said cheerfully.
“That may be a bit difficult Sister. If you haven’t noticed we don’t have a door.” Serin said.
“Nonsense my dear.” Tesler turned toward where the door should be and stared in shock at a blank wall. “Oh my Lady.”
“I think both sets of us coming into the room at the same time has confused it. It doesn’t know which floor to open on to.” Serin said pointing out of the window into a bright white fog.
“Now what do we do?” Tesler was not happy, not happy at all.
“I have no idea.” Serin replied sadly.
The women spent the next few moments searching for any other exit while Hanna just sat cross legged on the dressing table, eye’s shut in meditation.
“Hanna you haven’t got time to go to sleep, give us a hand to check this wall. If you can pass through it you can get outside into the hall and influence the room.” Serin called.
“Leave her Serin she’s trying something look.” Tesler said pointing at her diminutive companion.
Horren had to agree something was happening. Hanna seemed surrounded with a glowing nimbus of energy that radiated out of her increasingly desirable body. A bead of sweat appeared on Horren’s lip as sexual desire rose in her body in reaction to the Dryads rising glamour.
“Protect yourselves girls we don’t want anything to interrupt her.” Tesler called before beginning her own incantation.
“No don’t!” Serin called. “While the room’s in limbo we can’t risk anything that could affect its balance. We’ll just have to endure it as best we can.”
The young teacher ran her hands hesitantly over her body as the influence grew stronger before balling her fists and digging her nails into her palms in an attempt to control herself.
For Horren it was worse as jealousy fought with lust. Every other woman in the room in her fevered mind was after her Serin, her lover, her bride; it was almost too much to bear.
Hanna’s eyes flicked open to reveal shinny golden orbs to match her radiant skin.
“They’re coming, just a little more and they will be here.” Hanna licked her lips suggestively.
“Are there you are Ladies.” Berisford said as he opened a door that hadn’t been there to the accompaniment of Horren’s scream. “Sorry if I startled you my dear but young Lancelot here tells me you need some masculine help on some sort of mission, what.”
“No apologies needed my dear, dear man.” Horren replied trying hard to gather herself as Tesler blocked Hanna from view. After all the last thing they wanted was the old man stripping of and jumping on top of Hanna in the middle of them all.
“I totally agree with my young friend sir, no apologies needed. I’m sure your help will be invaluable.” Tesler added. “Girls take our new friend downstairs while I help Hanna. She is exhausted poor thing.”
“I know the perfect pick me up I’ll make it once we’re all downstairs. I should think we could all do with a drop.” The old man paused at the door and glanced back at Darius. “I shouldn’t stay in there my dear it’s a rum room to be true. I spent hours in total confusion after I entered it when I first came and all I wanted was to find my way downstairs. It’s a rum room.”
“That it is Berisford so girls leave the door open if you would be so kind?” Tesler asked.
If he was surprised to find Tesler and a drawn looking Hanna coming down from the rooms above when they reached the stairs he didn’t show it.
“The blessed door shut all on its own after you left.” Muttered Hanna to Horren as they took the stairs.
“Are you alright now?” Horren asked.
“Yes just tired but how Tesler is still standing is beyond me I was all over her like a thing possessed.” Hanna told her with a shake of her head. “And all I got was her telling me not to be so silly. I’ve never had someone stand up to my full glamour before she’s amazing. She just kept saying she was my mother and she wouldn’t let anything hurt me. It was most odd.”
“No, not odd at all. Not odd at all.” Serin muttered with a strange calculating look in her eyes.
Downstairs they were all treated to Beresford’s pick me up which was amazingly effective considering it was devoid of any alcohol or drugs.
“Never touch the stuff, dulls the senses you know.” He waffled. “It’s made from cinnamon, cloves and the like in grape juice heated by a red hot poker.”
“It’s very nice sir, very warming .Are we going back to the village or are we going to the farm Sister?” Serin asked.
“If you’re going to the farm the pair of us will wait for your return dear ladies.” Berisford said with a wide smile.
“Sister you might want to have a look at this.” Hanna poked her head around the door frame of the day room from the hallway outside.
“Now what have you done Hanna child.” Tesler groaned putting her glass down and following.
She soon found out and she wasn’t best pleased. Hanna had opened the cursed chest and was standing beside it grinning inanely.
“You foolish young woman anything could have been inside it and may still be for that matter.”
“By God it’s a staircase of some sort, now that deserves investigating.” Beresford said as he peered in.
“A what?!” Tesler barked.
“Sir Beresford is correct Holy Sister it seems to be a staircase going down into the bowels of the earth. Fascinating.” Lancelot confirmed with a glint in his eye. “I wonder if down there is where the promised portal is.”
Serin crossed and kissed the man’s cheek much to Horren’s discomfort.
“Will you come with us into that dark abyss brave knight?” Serin ran the back of her hand over his cheek making him flush.
“Surely. My sword is yours to command.” He said stoutly drawing his blade to prove the point.
“I would deem it an honour if I could join you, Ladies.” Beresford said following his young companion’s example and drawing his sword.
“I too would like to join you if you will have me.” Bobble eye said from behind them making them jump.
“I would wish you wouldn’t creep up on me sir but you are more than welcome to join us.” Serin told him.
“My apologises my Lady, but I am a mage of some ability and I think you will find me an asset.” He replied quietly.
“I’m sure we will.” Serin said with a smile before whispering to Horren. “Strange that they are willing to go down that hole, but not outside into the air to the farm.”
“Yes very odd.” Horren muttered distractedly staring in the blackness.