Chronicles of the Court Rogue: The Underdark - Part Two
A very sleepy pirate Lupess was woken up the next morning by a frantic banging sound on her bedroom door. “It's too early,” Mareian groaned, flipping her covers off her bed. She was going over to the door alright; going over to give whoever that was on the other side of piece of her mind.
Opening the door, however, she clamped her mouth shut at the sight of a teary-eyed Anya. “Sweetie, what is it?”
“I can't find Wolfers,” the small Uni wailed. “I looked and I looked and all I found was a lamp and two pawn pieces!”
“Whoa, whoa, slow down.” The Lupess ushered the small Uni into her room and settled Anya onto an overstuffed chair. “Tell me what happened.”
Between sniffles, Anya explained finding the chess pieces, and about going down first thing that morning to meet with Wolfers, and finding his burnt out lamp with two new pawns next to it. “I don't even know how long he's been gone,” Anya admitted, bursting into tears.
“Tell you what,” Mareian said. “Let's go find Jeran, and all three of us can look together.” Because neither you or I could carry Wolfers out if need be, if worst comes to worst, she added silently.
Jeran, being of the people who did not have a longstanding grudge against morning, was wide awake and working in his office.
“You're up early,” the blue Lupe said in surprise when Mareian opened the office door.
“Wolfers seems to have gone exploring under the castle last night, and now we can't find him,” Mareian said, sending a significant look towards Anya.
“I see.” Jeran knelt down to Anya's level. “Do you know roughly where he might be?”
Anya nodded, looking somewhat awed by the giant Lupe. Mareian bit back a grin. Anya's father, Ricky, was one of the Lupess's closest friends and she was often over at his house to visit. Anya had known Mareian since the orange Uni had worn diapers – Jeran, Crown Prince and King's Champion, was another, apparently somewhat more intimidating, matter.
“Why don't you show us where you know he was last,” Mareian suggested.
“I marked the window closest to his lamp with an X,” Anya explained, pointing to the ventilation hole.
Jeran knelt, peering into the darkness under the castle. “Is this where you two explored yesterday?”
“No,” Anya said, shaking her head. “We were farther along the wall, and around the corner up there.”
“Coming back in the dark, he must have gotten confused,” Mareian mused. “It's not like there are a lot of distinctive landmarks.”
“There's no way I'll fit though that little opening,” Jeran admitted. “Mare, you shouldn't have any problem. Anya, can you show Mare what you found?”
The hole was a tight fit for even Mareian, who was often mistaken for an eleven year old cub by strangers. Luckily, the Lupess was used to tight places, and she expertly wiggled though behind Anya.
“Here's the lamp.” The orange Uni jerked her head towards the darkened light source.
“And the two chess pieces you were talking about,” Mareian mused. “You didn't take them?”
“No, I thought they might be important.”
“Pocket them now while the going's good,” the Lupess advised. Frowning, she tried to decipher the scuffs, holes, and the strewn footprints in the dirt. “Anya, stop.”
The Uni froze. “What is it?”
“Walk straight back towards me, the same way you got there.” With a confused look, the Uni complied. When the Uni was safely back, Mareian nodded. “Run to Jeran and ask him to get a big, bushy branch.”
While Anya was busy with her errand, Mareian took a close look at what she'd seen. The pirate Lupess hadn't wanted to scare the Uni, but the floor sagging under the Uni's weight had caused the Lupess to realize what had probably happened to Wolfers.
“Here it is,” Anya panted. “Jeran wants to know if we've found anything yet.”
“Maybe,” Mareian said, taking the branch. The old wooden floor on the southern end was riddled with holes; Mareian's theory was that one of them was newer than the others. With short strokes, she uncovered where solid dirt met with old wooden flooring. Making sure to stand safely on the solid dirt,she pushed hard on the wood with the branch. With a loud crack, the aged floor gave way, tumbling down into the depths below. No cry of alarm from a cub below sounded. Peering down, Mareian was pretty sure that the drop wasn't enough to kill someone – Wolfers had probably wandered off in an attempt to find his own way out.
“Did you find anything?” Jeran asked, as Mareian and Anya wiggled back out into the morning sunlight.
“Yes,” Mareian said. “Wolfers fell through the old rotted floor, down into the Underdark.”
Anya squeaked, her eyes growing wide. For generations young Meridellian children had been told tales of the Underdark, most of which were entirely made up. It was said to be haunted by the spirits of soldiers who had died in ages past protecting the castle. Mareian had never quite understood why people thought that someone who had given their life to protect the citizens of their country would suddenly wish them harm after their death. Yes, there were skeletons walking around down there, but they'd always been nice to her on the rare occasions she'd run into them. Of course, she'd never been a lost six year old boy during any of those times either.
“Are we going to have to get lots of guards to help find Wolfers?” Anya asked.
“No,” Mareian said. “I'm planning on going down and asking if anyone in the Underdark has seen a little Zafara cub.”
As the trio walked around the castle towards the dungeons, Anya whispered to Jeran, “Was Lady Mareian being sarcastic? Daddy says she can be really sarcastic.”
Jeran blinked. “You know what sarcastic means?”
“Yes, it means that they're joking, but not in a nice funny way.” She paused, and then added in a reproachful tone, “I am seven years old, it's not like I'm a little kid.”
Jeran grinned. “I don't meet many seven year olds who go throwing about three syllable words in casual conversation. But to answer your question, yes and no. Mareian can be very sarcastic, but I don't think she was when she said she was going down there to ask about Wolfers.” Pausing, he then added, “If you'd rather, you can stay up here.”
“No!” Anya said, with more force than she'd probably intended. “Wolfers is my friend. If he's down there, I can go down there too.”
Mareian was tempted to point out that Anya hadn't been the one so stupid as to go crawling about under the castle after dark, but bit her lip and held her silence. If Anya wanted to go, Mareian wouldn't stop her. She only hoped the small Uni didn't regret it later – and that Anya's father didn't have a Kau about the pirate Lupess letting his daughter go down there. Entering the dungeon, Mareian greeted her Wocky friend Danner with a wave.
“Shouldn't you two be getting ready for your big day tomorrow?” he asked, arching an eyebrow.
“That's the later part of the day,” Mareian explained.
“I see.” The blue Wocky gave her a skeptical look, scratching his goatee. He didn't look entirely convinced about her logic.
Mareian gave him her most earnest look. “The early part of the day involves me borrowing the key to downstairs.”
“Down sta... The Underdark? Are you crazy?”
“I don't think I'm crazy. Jeran, am I crazy?”
“He's not exactly an unbiased opinion,” Danner retorted, removing a heavy key from his key-chain. “Here's the key, but don't come crying to me when you get scared.” Holding up a hand to prevent her from retorting, he finished, “And I don't even want to know why you're going down there.”
“Spoilsport,” Mareian muttered as they waked to the door that lead to the Underdark. “I will never understand how dealing with murderers and arsonists doesn't scare him, but the Underdark does.” She gave the door an annoyed jerk as the key unlocked the aged lock.
“Murders and arsonists don't scare you,” Jeran pointed out.
“Of course they don't, but neither does the Underdark,” she retorted. “Besides, most of the people Danner deals with are my friends anyways.” With a snort, the pirate Lupess started down the stairs, muttering to herself about cowardly Wockies.
“What is the Underdark, really?” Anya asked.
“This isn't the first castle to stand here. It's not even the the second or third,” Jeran explained as they went down the stone stairwell. “The castles have all been build on the ruins of older ones. The Underdark is the remaining parts of those older castles.”
“Is it really haunted?”
“Yes,” Mareian said, stopping at a rather ordinary looking door at the base of the stairs. “But it's not haunted down here like the tales say.” Unlocking the second door with the same key as the first, the pirate Lupess opened it, and disappeared though the doorway...
To be continued...