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Castle Planners Journal: The Lost Oubliette

by ferretboy85


In the deep depths of Meridell Castle, an Orange Bori rubbed the cold, damp late Winter air out of his frigid paws. He descended the stairs toward the dungeons, his least favourite part of the castle. Gaius was the Castle Planner, and was in charge of making sure the castle was in architecturally good shape, and despite his protests, the dungeon got the least attention. Gaius suspected that Skarl intentionally let it deteriorate, to make it more miserable for offenders, but Gauis was always reminding him that the rest of the castle is built on top of the dungeon, and without proper upkeep, it could bring the rest of the castle down.

      The Bori was conducting an inspection today to make sure that at least it was safe. The tight stairs brought him into the depths, and face to face with the jailer, lounging at his desk. The Red Wocky knight took a look at Gaius, rolled his eyes, and paid him no mind. With the formalities of entering the dungeon out of the way, Gaius was free to explore to his content.

      He knelt down at the cell closest to the entrance. This was the most used cell by far, as evidenced by the amount of wear in the bedrock. People who were only going to be held in the dungeon for a night or two usually wound up there. Most were held for minor things like stepping on Skarls cape, or accidentally making a rude noise during a banquet.

     Gaius inspected the pivot hole where the cell door hinged open. The wrought iron doors were thick and sturdy, but the moisture of the underground was doing damage in addition to the wear and tear. Gaius added a little chunk of Springabee’s wax to help fight off further corrosion, and maybe even lubricate it a little. Perhaps the jailer would appreciate that. The rest of the cell was looking fine. The worn-down stone walls had been polished by years of pets pawing at the walls in boredom, or maybe attempts to dig their way to freedom. The hardened and huge slabs never yielded, and kept all its occupants securely inside.

      The Bori moved on to inspect the next area of the dungeon: the little gutters that ran along the floor to collect any water and drain it into the sewers were looking relatively clean and free of clutter. Gaius made a mental note to put in a good word to Sir Borodere that they were doing a good job of keeping it tidy down here.

     Gaius followed along the organic walls of the dungeon, tracing a claw on the surface as he walked. The tool marks from labourers tunnelling the rooms out of bedrock were still plainly visible on the wall, giving it a rough but regular texture. The odd angles of the floor and walls were sometimes just the result of a convenient natural fault in the bedrock that the builders followed along. It would have been backbreaking work to move all this rock out, but it likely made for convenient building material.

     In the dim light, he could see that the next cell was occupied, but thankfully the prisoner was resting in the relative darkness. Gaius took the chance to check the cell visually for any signs of broken walls, missing bricks, or other damage. Everything seemed to be in order, except for what looked to be a loose bolt that held up the bench. Gaius wanted to inspect it closer. He [i]could[/i] ask the jailer for the keys, but Gaius didn't want to deal with him, and started flipping through his ring of keys for the master skeleton key.

     He was one of the few members of Skarl’s House that had keys to every part of the castle, but just for maintenance. This was maintenance, and the prisoner was sleeping, so it should be fine, right? He quietly and gently turned the key, and the door yielded with a mechanical ‘clink’. Before opening the door, Gaius added more Springabee Wax to the door hinge to help prevent squeaking. He managed to sneak in without the resting prisoner even shifting in their sleep.

     Gaius tiptoed to the loose-looking bolt, and gave it a gentle wiggle. Sure enough, it yielded slightly, but thankfully did not come out. Nonetheless, he would need to make note of it to come fix it. The dull candlelight was not enough to get a good look at what kind of bolt it would need to replace it, so he leaned in close to get a closer look. As he examined it, without warning, Gaius was startled nearly a foot into the air by the voice of the prisoner whispering as loud as he could.

     “I hear it! It’s beneath the floors!!” His raspy voice was startling. “You must hear it too!” The ragged Kacheek looked to Gaius for confirmation. In fear, Gaius merely shook his head gently. “Listen closely, and share my horror!” The Kacheek made a demanding point to the solid bedrock floor. There was decidedly nothing beneath them. When the Bori hesitated, the Kacheek once again insisted he put his ear to the floor and laid prone to show him how.

     Gaius panicked, and instead of listening to the floor, took the opportunity to dash out of the open jail cell, and quickly close it behind him before the Kacheek could stand back up.

     “Please! The scratches! You must at least try!” The Kacheek continued to plead.

     “What’s going on?” The grumpy jailer started coming over. “Quit harassing him, lowlife.” The Wocky half-heartedly yelled, and then returned to his post once he saw that the commotion wasn’t an escape.

     Feeling a little guilty, Gaius decided to humour the prisoner. He knelt down on the other side of the jail door, much to their delight. As everything in the prison returned to complete silence, he pressed his large Bori ear against the cold stone. To his surprise, his attempts were immediately rewarded. He could hear it clearly. Scraaaaaape. Scraaaaape. A grunt of effort and a moan.

     Gaius shot back up, wide-eyed.

     “Told ya! Nobody ever believes me.” The Kacheek crossed his arms with a feeling of self-satisfaction.

     Gaius quickly decided that he was feeling claustrophobic, and suddenly craved the open spaces of the castle gardens, making haste to go back outside, quickly mumbling good-byes to the jailer on his way out.

      Gaius wanted nothing more than to get back to his desk and just log his findings. He took a back hallway behind the walls of the castle’s cloister. This path was the best way to avoid not only the bitter cold of the late Winter, but also people. Nobles living in the castle loved the garden spaces of the cloister’s garth, and took the cold weather as an excuse to show off their fancier winter finery. Gaius, dressed in an undyed felt cloak, preferred to stay simple and plainly dressed. He didn't want to be exposed to such a fashion show. The dreary, but warm hallways were lit with torches and braziers, which kept the halls of the castle toasty.

      Normally, this hallway would be empty, but given the chilly temperatures, he was not the only castle staffer using the hall: a few maids were travelling to the living quarters from the laundry chambers, gossipping about the things they had seen in the noble’s rooms. Gaius always knew they had the most hilarious stories to tell, and kept an ear out for their conversation. As he overheard a maid mention a poorly worded love letter they had ‘accidentally’ read, he bumped into a Black and White Ixi as he rounded the corner.

      “Oh, my apologies, sir” Gaius made sure that the scowling man was alright, his little goatee contorted from a look of disgust after having been bumped.

      “Watch where you are going!” The Ixi snarled, despite the fact that it was the Ixi who had been walking on the wrong side of the hallway. “Don’t you know who I am?” He continued to be indignant.

      Gaius looked at the fancily dressed man. He was clearly wealthy, and his black and white look was quite distinct. The Bori was sure he had seen the Ixi around, but couldn’t remember a thing. “No? You are not hurt, are you?”

      “Harumph. It is perhaps best then you remain ignorant of me and my wrath. And I am alive, despite your efforts to dishevel me.” The anonymous Ixi walked away in a huff.

      “Yikes.” Gaius muttered to himself, and scurried off to his office to stay out of sight.

      Gaius’s day was going poorly, but then he spotted a familiar shade of blue out the corner of his eye as he passed the threshold of the library. It was Sir Jeran Borodere, chatting with his sister about how the cooks were rumoured to be experimenting on the knights with weird new recipes. As Jeran heard someone enter, he turned to see Gaius come in, and his face lit up in joy. “Gaius! Good to see you. You look... Terrible! What’s up?” he grew concerned.

      Gaius’s anxieties had been projected on his face. “Just shaken by some weird stuff. Something’s making weird noises underground in the dungeon, and then I bumped into some weird Ixi in the hallway. He shouted at me.” Gaius hurried over to his desk while recalling his story. He pulled his logbook out.

      “Noises? Like, someone trying to break in?” Jeran was immediately concerned.

      “No, like, something was moaning and gently scratching the walls. In my bones, I sense something is alive down there that shouldn’t be.” He clarified.

      “Ohh! Sounds like a ghoul!” Lisha thought about some of her favourite fictional stories. It had been a while since she was last able to geek out about them with someone else.

      “Maybe. I’m actually a little more worried about the weird guy in the hallway.” Gaius vented a little, but decided he wanted to put the experience behind him, and started scribbling notes into his logbook.

      “What did he look like?” Jeran was curious to see who had slighted his friend.

      “Oh. Black and white Ixi with a goatee, and no name.” Gaius recalled. Lisha giggled at the irony of an Ixi with a goatee, which should have been named an ixiee.

      “Grouchy as all get out?” Jeran wanted to confirm.

      “Oh yeah.” Gaius nodded as he continued writing notes as fast as he could, despite the thick digging Bori claws making it a little on the clumsy side to hold a quill.

      “Oh dear. I see you have finally met Count Durlston. That old codger has been plaguing these walls for longer than I have been alive. Nobody knows anything about him, he refuses to talk. We only know one thing...” Jeran explained. Gaius and Lisha were looking at him with bated breath as he revealed the Count’s only known secret.

      “He’s a prisoner. The guards have strict orders to not let him outside the walls of the castle under any circumstance.”

      “What? Really?” Lisha asked incredulously. “Why would a prisoner be outside the dungeon? And for over 25 years?”

      “I never really questioned it. King Skarl never seemed to want to discuss it any further.” Jeran shrugged.

      “Oh, it’s happened before. The dungeon is an interesting place. If you are not important enough, you just wait there to get your punishment, and then you are sent on your way. Only if you are important enough will they keep you down there as your punishment. Giving you food, water, and more expensive of all, space, is a big deal.” Gaius explained. He had asked a similar question to his father many years prior while working on repairing a jail cell door.

      “Oooh, but that doesn't explain Count Durlston.” Lisha was still curious.

     “Well, I don't know anything about that, but if he’s a Count, that’s pretty high ranking...” Gaius mused. “Maybe he’s too important to be kept in the filth of the dungeon.”

     “Well, ‘Count’ [i]is[/i] the highest rank one can have without being in the royal family. He must control a lot of land somewhere.” Jeran elaborated.

     “Ooh, if he’s got land, he’s got records. I will see if I can’t find those!” Lisha was excited by the opportunity to use the library, and she disappeared behind a rack of scrolls, leaving Gaius and Jeran alone.

     “I have a bolt in the dungeon that needs replacing... Do you want to come?” Gaius invited Jeran as he finished his notes.

     “Ugh. The dungeon gives me the heebie jeebies.” Jeran was thrown by memories of having to clear out monsters that came up from the sewers into the dungeon as a squire. “But I can come with, if it will make you feel protected.” Jeran assured him.

      The two headed down to the dungeon, but not before Gaius stopped by the storeroom to grab some quicklime mortar to repair the wall with. As they headed down, Gaius would point out various old repairs and renovations that were evident in the castle walls. Sir Borodere found the subject only mildly interesting, but enjoyed listening to his friend talk about something he knew so much about. As they descended the stairs, though, the facts about the castle became less fun, such as the origins of scratches on the walls and the prisoners of a war that made them. Eventually, Gaius stopped, not wanting to bring the mood down.

     Jeran spoke up as they passed by the guard. “Sir Morhann. Report.” He surprised the lounging Red Wocky with a command, and he nearly fell out of the chair he had been lounging in before his commanding officer came around the corner.

     “Oh, sir! Nothing to report, only a small disturbance when Mister Ames started making a ruckus.” The Red Wocky recalled.

     “Good. Carry on.” Jeran dismissed the attention of the guard.

     “Back for more?” The imprisoned Kacheek asked, recognizing Gaius.

     “Mr. Ames! Good to see you again. How are you doing?” Jeran asked cordially.

     “It’s rotten potatoes in here, but I’m alive,” he crossed his arms.

     “You will get out in less than two weeks.” Jeran said, unlocking the door to the cell next to Ames. “Hopefully, next time, you will not throw a pie during one of King Skarl's feasts.”

     “I won’t make any promises. It was hilarious.” He giggled, but then let out a tired sigh.

     “Come on, I have to transfer you for a bit while we repair that cell.” Jeran unlocked his door, and then gently escorted Kacheek over to the open cell.

     Gaius produced a trowel from his belt, added water to slake the quicklime for his mortar, and then got to work shoring up the anchor point in the cell. It didn't take him long, but eventually, he had scraped it down to a finished look. It just needed a couple of days to set strong.

     “That should do it.” Gaius announced.

     “While you're here, want to take care of those noisy bricks?” the imprisoned man complained. “That... thing underneath us makes them shake at night sometimes.”

     Gaius looked around. “Bricks? There shouldn't be brickwork in here. It’s carved from the bedrock...”

     Mr. Ames pointed his arm through the bars of his cell towards a completely dark wall. The low light afforded by the sparse torches hid one of the walls from sight. Jeran left to fetch a torch and brought it closer. Sure enough, an older style brick wall had been crudely put up, and was crumbling in places.

     “This wall is a mess.” Jeran commented.

     “It really is. Whoever put it up, put it up in a hurry, and a long while ago.” Gaius leaned in and gave the mortar a lick. Just like he had done to the crypts before, the salt content had confirmed the age of the wall to him once again.

     Gaius tapped on a brick, and it gave a dull thud in return, which indicated it was completely loose. He grasped it with his thick claws to get a good grip, and was able to easily slide it out. The mortar had failed completely. On the other side of the wall, complete darkness greeted him. He yanked out a second brick in a different spot, and asked for Jeran to hold up the torch to the new hole.

     “What do you think is back there?” Jeran asked, unable to see in with the light of the torch.

     “It’s probably just an old cave-in or a broken- Eep!” Gaius’s predictions were cut short as he peered through the first hole. Two tiny glowing red eyes suddenly appeared in front of him. His yelp and sudden jump backwards prompted Jeran to immediately draw his sword.

     “What happened?” He asked the Bori.

     “T-two glowing eyes. Something’s on the other side!” Gaius scooted backwards a little before he eventually climbed back on his feet.

     Jeran held the torch in front of one hole for light, and then looked into the other opening to see what Gaius saw. He held his sword at the ready for a quick poke if needed, but he saw only darkness.

     “If something is there. I think it’s gone.’ Jeran lowered his sword, but kept up his guard.

     “Good. I don't need any more surprises,” Gaius said, pushing the bricks back into their place.

     “It’s the monster below us. We’re doomed,” Mr Ames assured them.

     “Well, hopefully, it’s no monster, but regardless, I will fix up this wall, so it doesn't... rattle... anymore. I just need to grab more cement.” Gaius said, getting ready to leave.

     “I’ll stay here. Just in case.” Jeran said, giving Gaius a quick hug to assure him that it would be alright. “Besides, Sir Morhann is here. [i]isn’t that right, Sir Morhann?[/i]” Jeran called out to the Wocky to make sure he came over.

     Gaius raced up the stairs back to his storeroom beyond the cellar. He heaved the big bag of quicklime onto his back, and tried to carry the sac down the stairs. He wanted to shore the wall up as soon as possible, and raced down the stairs to get to work. He was only gone for five minutes, but was interrupted. As he rounded the corner to the dungeon entrances, a hulking skeletal figure with glowing eyes climbed the staircase. It took up the whole doorway. Gaius dropped the bag in surprise, and froze. All he had on him was his trusty trowel to fight with.

     The beast’s beady red eyes locked onto the Orange Bori, and the skeletal form of a Skeith rapidly approached.

     “You freed me...” The beast moaned.

     “N-no! No, I didn't! You escaped!” Gaius protested.

     “You showed me the way out...” Its jaw limply hung open as words echoed out.

     “You cannot leave... I- I’ll stop you!” Gaius did not know who or what had been imprisoned beyond that wall, but he knew that whatever it was, it was worth fighting to keep it imprisoned.

     “I must reunite with my Master.” The voice continued, heeding Gaius’s conviction no mind.

     The skeletal Skeith moved to pass Gaius, but Gaius lunged at it with his dull bladed trowel. The bones did not yield as the trowel bounced off. Even repeated tries could not stop the monster, as it shoved Gaius aside to make way.

     “Gaius!” Jeran called from the entrance to the dungeon stairs. He had just raced up the stairs, clutching a wound on his eye. Jeran had seen Gaius’s act of defiance, but thought it a bit foolish. The beast was not interested in Gaius now that the Bori was prone, so the Lupe rushed over to try and chase down the Skeith before it got away. But alas, it was too late. The Skeleton burst down a door to the outside, spread its boney wings, and, as if by magic, flew to the skies.

     Jeran cursed as he resheathed his sword, still pressing his wound. Gaius scrambled back to his feet, legs still shaky from the rush of adrenaline. Seeing Jeran’s injury, he fumbled through his toolbelt until he pulled out a tiny bottle of blue liquid. Gaius instructed Jeran to stop cursing, and bend down so he could apply the potion.

     “What is that stuff?” Jeran asked.

     “I always keep a bottle of Kayla’s Snidberry Dew on me for healing minor cuts, but... “ Gaius was surprised when Jeran lifted his paw. The wound was quite serious. “I guess this will be better than nothing.”

     “Yeah. That thing slashed my right in the eye. Shortly after you left, it burst the wall down and *Tch!* Ahh, that stings!” Gaius had done his best to apply the cure. “But it managed to overpower both Sir Morhann and I... Ugh, this is going to be an embarrassing report to file.” Jeran was visibly frustrated. “Thankfully, Morhann and Mr. Ames are doing far better than I am.”

     “It’ll be fine. Nobody knew there was a monster down there. Just focus on getting better. Here, let’s get you to the hospital. They’ll have a poultice for that.” Gaius started leading him there.

     Later that afternoon, once the commotion had died down, and Jeran’s eye injury was being treated, Gaius returned to the dungeon with the abandoned bag of quicklime and masonry supplies. He had to fix that wall to prevent this from happening again. As he looked around, the busted wall had left a layer of rubble all across the formerly clean dungeon floor. Since the wall was gone, he took the opportunity to bring a torch inside. A big pit with a rusted-through metal covering had sat in the centre of the floor. As Gaius very carefully peered over the edge, the torch barely illuminated the bottom.

     When Gaius saw that the bottom was covered in a scattering of bones, he gasped. “An oubliette...” Gaius had seen references to the oubliette, a style of prison cell where the prisoners were not expected to survive. But references to it seemed to have disappeared from newer records. He had assumed that the pit-style cell had been filled in, but now he saw evidence that it had been turned into an eternal grave for some unknown monster, which was now free.

     Flickering in the firelight, Gaius could look down the hole and see that a series of hand and footholds had been scratched into the solid rock leading up the steep walls of the hole. Gaius took this to explain the scratching noises Mr. Ames had been hearing underground; that thing had spent many years carving the stone a little bit at a time, likely using spare bones. Gaius decided not to investigate the dangerous hole further, and immediately started laying bricks to block this horrid hole back up. As he slid the last brick into place, and scraped away the excess mortar, the job was complete. He hoped for everyone’s sake, that this wall would never be taken down.

     At the end of the week, Gaius wrote in his journal. ‘Nobody has seen Count Durlston since the incident. Was he the monster's master? Worse, Jeran has yet to regain eyesight from his injury. He now has a handsome scar as a testament to his fight with the monster, but a terrible cost to pay for it. Skarl launched an investigation, but with three witnesses, two being knights, thankfully, I was not blamed for the monster’s escape. However, I still feel like it is my fault. Thankfully, my boyfriend is proud of my attempts to stop the monster where even he had failed, so that counts for something. But still, Skarl has double guards on duty, and has still not explained who Count Durlston is, and why he was imprisoned, or why that Skeleton in the oubliette was sealed away. We have to wait for those answers, it seems...’


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