The NaNoWriMo is the National Novel Writing Month, and takes place every November. All you have to do is write a 50,000+ word novel in a month.
My entry for 2006 was a fantasy novel, plot and characters entirely from my own head, but how the characters acted, and any incidents that occurred in the story, were decided by using GURPS (Generic Universal RolePlaying System) 3rd Edition. By this method, if (for example) the characters met the guards, I rolled to see how many guards there were, I rolled to see whether the characters could hide or bluff successfully or not, and if not, I'd roll out the combat. And yes, I did let them get their arses kicked.
Book I of the Have Sword & Sorcery: Will Travel series.
(If you enjoy these extracts and want to read the whole thing, you can buy it.)
Cullan was out in the city of Darash, after dark (and curfew), alone, and he couldn't remember where the rendezvous was. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but he could hear the sound of marching feet approaching, and the feet were accompanied by the gentle clink of armour and weapons. He took the next left and hurried silently along it. He stopped at the end and hung in the shadows waiting. The feet were getting nearer. Their owners appeared at the far end of the short street, and the leader of the squad looked down it. Seeing nothing, he didn't pause as he lead his squad on.
Cullan breathed out, and decided he would turn right here, keeping parallel to the street he'd been going down, to try and see if anything sparked his memory. He was in luck, as after a short walk, he saw a tavern. The rendezvous was only a few hundred yards down another street!
Unfortunately, the squad of watchmen could see him from their road. "You! Halt!" shouted the man at the head, as he hurried his squad towards Cullan's already running form. Cursing himself for his bad luck, Cullan headed down the nearest alley, took a right, a left, another left, another right - and ended up looking at a brick wall twenty yards away. He skidded to a stop. He still might get away with it - the clanking of the guards' armour was almost undetectable. However, not totally so, and it was getting louder. He could make out occasional orders, as well. Seeing nothing for it, he approached the wall, and attempted to climb it. He'd never been very good at climbing, so it didn't really surprise him when he slid back to the ground after only a few seconds. Seconds just enough for the squad to round the corner and block him in.
Cullan groaned inwardly as the Sergeant approached, his men spreading out to block the exit. He knew his appearance would not be very convincing as someone who had merely "lost track of time whilst out for an evening stroll" - especially at 3am. His, admittedly not-bad looks, were somewhat offset by the knife and shortsword he carried, and the leather Jack he wore. He also had a large satchel slung at his hip, in which he had some lockpicks, a line and grapnel - he cursed again as he realised he could have used that to get over the wall - and the night's takings. Nevertheless, he had to try, otherwise he would be in the stocks for two days - if they didn't search him, and if they did, prison for a month or more, maybe. "Ah, Sergeant, well done," he began, and sudden inspiration struck him. "King Gort will be most pleased to hear my report of your sterling efforts to keep curfew enforced." He reached into his sleeve pocket and pulled out a small piece of paper with a coat of arms and some writing on - in fact, an arrest warrant - and flashed it towards the guardsman. "I am instructed to report on the efficacy of the law and its' enforcers, so if you'll kindly allow me on my way, you can get back to your regular duties, and I to mine." He finished with an ingratiating smile.
"You," the Sergeant said, after he had strolled up to within arms-reach, "are a lying piece of criminal filth."
"Valid point," Cullan conceeded, backing up slowly for the first time.
"You are under arrest for Breach of Curfew," the Sergeant told him, advancing slowly. Cullan's keen hearing caught two soft thumps nearby, that the Sergeant's talking didn't quite mask. Cullan carefully kept his eyes on his captor, in case looking over his shoulder would let him see something.
"Really?" he asked, playing for time. "So, you didn't believe my story then?"
The Sergeant snorted. "Believe you? I've heard more believable jokes!"
At which point, one of the watchmen collapsed, and another cried out and staggered. Cullan took advantage of the Sergeant's glance over his shoulder, and tried punching him in the jaw. It did little more than hurt his knuckles though - not that it mattered now, as Alys and Kenyon were here. Things were always alright when they were around. She knew more ways to incapacitate someone than Cullan had picked locks, and Kenyon was a skilled brute of a fighter. Cullan was the brains, they were the brawn. Well, Kenyon was the brawn, Alys was the eye-candy who could kill you.
"At least one of your lads has probably got a cracked skull," Cullan remarked, as the Sergeant roared and lunged for him, as his men dropped their halberds and drew their truncheons. By the time the six who were untouched had done so, Alys had doubled one of them over with a kick to the crotch, and Kenyon had unhooked his greataxe, and was preparing to use it as a club. He rammed the end of the haft into the face of the man he had hit and was still staggering, knocking him out cold. The first watchman to attack Alys missed. She grabbed his arm, turned him into one of his fellow's attacks, and kicked out again, staggering back a second man. Kenyon swung his axe haft, dazing a guard, taking their number down to four, plus the Sergeant, who was grappling with Cullan, and getting the best of it. There was a brief lull as they took stock - the guards didn't want to draw their swords, in case that prompted Kenyon to use his axe properly, or Alys to draw the slender blade slung down her back. They couldn't retreat, and running for it would mean going past them. As for Kenyon and Alys, they had to help Cullan, so running was out, but to do so, they had to get past four upright watchmen, and one who was slumped against a wall, trying to raise his crossbow.
The lull didn't last long. Kenyon held his axe life a staff and charged, catching the two nearest watchmen across their chests and pushing them back. Alys jump-kicked one of those facing her, and spun-kicked the other as she landed. The first staggered back a little, the other was slammed into the wall. Kenyon smacked one of his men in the face with the flat of the blade, dropping him, then turned and hurled the other into the other wall, next to the guy with the crossbow. He'd got it ready by now, and fired it with a jump as his mate met the brickwork. The quarrel spanged as it ricochetd off Kenyon's mailed flank. Kenyon and Alys didn't stop, they went straight to where Cullan and the Sergeant were grappling.
"Do you want to hit him, or shall I?" asked Kenyon.
"One of you hit him, eh?" grunted Cullan. Kenyon smacked the Sergeant on the back of the head with the butt of the axe. He yelled and let Cullan go, spinning round. Seeing the two warriors standing so close, his face turned from snarl to grimace, then slowly turned back to grin. He straigtened up.
"About bloody time!" he called.
Cullan stopped rubbing his wrists, and Kenyon turned. He tapped Alys on the shoulder. She turned. What they saw was, apart from the two original watchmen still standing, now with crossbows ready, there was an entirely new squad behind them, fanned out across the entry to the alley, and they also had their crossbows aimed at the trio.
"Ah," said Cullan. "I don't suppose either of you two can do anything about that lot?"
"Didn't think so." Cullan turned to the Sergeant and gave him a big wide grin. "Well, Sergeant, it appears I and my friends will be enjoying your hospitality tonight after all."
With the cloak across the mouth of the cave, and the fire, and the heat of four bodies, the cave was nice and snug, and they woke nice and refreshed the next morning, ready for what they hoped would be the final leg of the first stage of their journey through Morat. If they didn't reach Rast today, they knew they probably never would.
They set off. There were still clouds covering most of the sky, but it hadn't rained or snowed in the night, and the wind had died down, and for now the sun was visible. As it rose through the morning, it went above the line of the clouds, and the day became darker, somewhat ominously. They stopped to eat at one again, leaving bare scraps for an evening meal, and a mouthful of water each. Then they continued on their journey, each hoping that round the next bend, they would spot the Ruined Temple of Rast.
It was growing worryingly dark when they thought they spotted it. "Come on, not far now," Cullan called back to the others, and he forged ahead again.
That was when they heard the howl.
"Wolves?" asked Alys of the air. "Surely not this high up?"
"Unless they're desperate," Cullan replied. "The Temple might be a pilgrimage destination, so they know they can get food there."
"It's not wolves," Kenyon said. "The pitch is - not quite right."
"Do you know what it is?"
"No, I don't recognise it - exactly. But it is familiar. And it is behind us."
There was another howl, louder.
"And getting nearer," Alys finished.
"Alys! Take the girl, get her to the Temple!" Cullan ordered.
"You take her!"
"You take her, I'm too tired to run! Go! Kenyon, drop the firewood, we'll set a fire in the path."
"Wait!" Kenyon called to Morgan, who was already starting for the Temple. Alys brought her back as Kenyon heaved out most of the remaining firewood. She touched a twig, and it barely caught light.
"I haven't the energy for more," she whispered.
"It's okay, it's burning," Kenyon assured her, as he sheltered the little flame and guided it to the pile. "Go, get going!"
The two women jogged ahead, as Kenyon and Cullan back-paced, watching the path. The fire was burning merrily now, blurring the view beyond it. The Temple was about a mile ahead, and barely visible in the darkness. Suddenly, Kenyon saw a shape in the darkness beyond the fire, a furlong from it, and a quarter of a mile from where he stood, frozen.
"What, do you see them?" Cullan asked, checking the position of the women.
Kenyon nodded. "Skaven," he said.
"Skaven," Kenyon said again, turning to run. "Dog-soldiers. The fire won't stop them! Move!"
Cullan struggled after him. "Slow down!" he called, as Kenyon easily outpaced him. Kenyon halted and waited for Cullan to catch up, then took his arm, and pulled him along. They caught up with Alys and Morgan not long after. Cullan glanced back over his shoulder, and saw the lead Skaven negotiating the fire. It was a vicious-looking large dog, running on its' hind legs, wearing light armour and with a shortsword in its' hand. It stopped and turned, yipped a couple of times, then ran on as a chorus of barks answered. The fire was about a third of a mile behind them, they still had more than half the distance to go to the Temple Ruins.
They carried on moving as fast as they could, but repeated glances over their shoulders revealed the Skavens still closing. When they closed to a hundred and fifty yards, Alys stopped and unslung her bow. "Keep moving!" she shouted. Cullan obeyed, taking Morgan by the arm. Kenyon slowed and hung a few yards behind her. "Go!" she told him, as she nocked an arrow. He didn't move. She took aim at the silhouetted Skaven, waiting for it to get closer. At just under a hundred yards, she fired. She missed her target, but as she turned and began running again, she heard a yelp as the arrow hit one of the other Skaven. The Skaven really were too close for comfort now, and Kenyon practically had to drag Alys to keep the distance. They caught up with Morgan and Cullan about three hundred yards from the Temple, Alys gasping frantically. They slowed down, and Cullan looked over his shoulder. The lead Skaven were still about a hundred yards behind the group, and closing.
"We won't make it!" he gasped. "Knives! Morgan, keep running!"
But Morgan stopped, and turned. She struck a traditional spellcaster's pose, legs apart, head high, one arm above her head ready to hurl a spell. She twirled her hand, and nothing happened. She twirled it again, and flung a huge fireball at the Skaven. They scattered, and Morgan started running again. The others followed her, and within seconds there was a howl and a series of barks, and they knew the Skaven were chasing them again. They didn't ask how Morgan had suddenly found the energy, or the skill, to throw a fireball.
As they ran, Kenyon and Alys slid their knives out of their sheaths and passed them to Cullan. He put Alys' smaller blade into his own knife sheath, and held Kenyon's by the blade, ready to throw. They were getting nearer to the Temple by the second, and Cullan could see a portico that still seemed fairly intact, and he directed them towards it. He dropped back, letting the others in first, then went through the doorway and turned, readying the large knife in his hand. The nearest Skaven was forty yards away, closely followed by at least five more. He waited until it was within ten yards, aiming carefully, then hurled the knife, drew Alys', flipped it, and threw that at the next Skaven, before jumping backwards and drawing his sword. The first knife hit true and jolted the oncoming creature, the second barely embedded itself in the second creature's armour, then the first creature came through the doorway and Kenyon's axe smashed down on its' back, knocking it to the floor. He stood on the creature's back as Alys swept her sword into the chest of the second creature. It survived and fell back, letting the next one in. Kenyon's axe swept down on its' head, sending it to the floor in a spray of blood. The next one got the point of Alys' sword in the middle of its' helmet, which did nothing but stop it dead. The fifth Skaven scrambled past, and Kenyon missed his swing at it, but Cullan was ready to meet it. The final Skaven, Alys cut on the back, but it came inside with only a minor wound. Alys stepped into the doorway as Kenyon turned to deal with the last Skaven in their small shelter. A single axe blow took it out of action, while Alys defended the doorway and Cullan exchanged blows with his Skaven. The Skaven Kenyon had just been standing on got up, and Morgan darted forward, staff raised. She hit it, and the Skaven's riposte knocked her down. She got up as the Skaven attacked again and, somehow, missed. She swung again, missing, and this time the Skaven hit her with its' sword. Morgan collapsed, and it would have been the end of the mission if Kenyon hadn't swung his axe into the Skaven's back. The Skaven fighting Cullan broke its' sword against Cullan's desperate defence, but his equally desperate attacks somehow didn't seem to be finding the mark. The Skaven had a chance to draw its' hatchet and exchange blows with Cullan before Kenyon axed it in the back too.
There was a cry from the doorway, and the two of them turned to see Alys collapse, one of the Skaven standing over her with a dripping blade, the other wringing its' wrist where it had swung its' sword against the doorway, breaking it, by mistake. Kenyon and Cullan threw themselves across to the doorway, Kenyon's first blow dropping the Skaven still with a weapon, and Cullan's knocking back the other. Cullan thrust at the creature's face, ripping its' jaw open, then Kenyon swung and knocked it out. Cullan remained standing just long enough to grin at Kenyon, before collapsing from exhaustion. Kenyon sank to his knees, and got his breath back. He was just about to start tearing some bandages when, in the dim light, a shadow fell across him. He looked up, reaching for his axe.
"Have you been fighting on my front porch?"
The journey across Morat was cold, but thankfully dry, and passed slowly. The cart barely went above walking pace, and with Morgan and Alys taking turns to drive it for four hours each, they made about forty miles a day. The road ran alongside a small stream coming down from the mountains, that on the second day petered out in a small pool. Cullan and Kenyon spent the days in the back of the wagon, resting and regaining their strength. Every evening, Morgan and Alys took it in turns to do some foraging in the bare landscape, although they weren't able to collect much. The two women also took it in turns to watch every night, insisting that the men were as healed as possible when they got to Morss. Whenever they spotted someone on the road, Morgan cast her Illusion spell to make it appear as if they were some of the Temple Guard on a boring mission. On the fourth day, they came across an inn, and, as they could see the towers of Morss beginning to loom over the horizon, decided to break their journey here for a day. Morgan dropped the Illusion spell, and they all spent a few minutes off the road making themselves look like travelling merchants, although it was doubtful that the innkeeper believed them. Nevertheless, with Alys doing all the negotiating, he let them stay for two nights for a fair price of $10 for all of them, bed and board (although drink was extra. Kenyon paid for a pint of ale each, and was really quite sorry when Morgan threw hers up in the night - she threw up over him). They spent the fifth day relaxing, trying to keep a low profile, although Alys did manage to give Morgan a few hours of knife practice, on top of the couple of hours she'd been able to give on the road. They set off again at mid-morning of the sixth day, intending to travel less distance, so they would have less time to wait outside the citadel. At the end of the sixth day, they had gone twenty miles, and were about ten miles from Morss. As they had one more day before Mordlin's contact let them in, and they still had to find the southern Postern gate, they decided to spend the seventh day resting up, while Alys went scouting for the correct gate, and to see how likely any trouble would be. She didn't go in disguise, but she was careful where she walked. She was gone the full day, during which time Morgan used her Seek Food spell to gather supplies, and Kenyon and Cullan got some light weapons practice in - Cullan really needed to not miss open targets like he had with the Orc, and Kenyon needed to get used to the scimitar. Not long after the others finished their evening meal, Alys returned to the campsite, flushed with success.
"I found the gate," she told them. "No one saw me looking, travellers are really scarce around the city."
"They are," confirmed Kenyon. "The caravan I was with didn't go anywhere near Morss, I only went there with the head merchant as his bodyguard when he went to make a personal deal with one of the Gate Captains."
"Makes sense, from what I've seen," Alys nodded. "The place is - literally - a fortress! There are guards every twenty yards on the battlements, which are eighty feet high. The main gatehouse to the north rises another twenty feet above that, and the buttress towers not quite as high. The main tower must be six hundred feet high, and a hundred across!"
"What are the guards like?" asked Cullan.
"The ones I saw, what, five years ago, were just normal heavy foot soldiers. Maybe a dozen crossbows per hundred blades. Good armour as well, so not much point trying to kill them if they're not alone and you can't jump him."
"Right," Alys added. "The ones I saw looked tall and heavyset, but no visible weapons, so they weren't carrying spears or polearms, or longbows."
"Well, that should at least make it easier to get in without being attacked if something goes wrong," Cullan said. "We won't get shot at, or a spear landing in front of us if the alarm's raised, and we can outrun a bunch of armoured guards, right?"
"You might be able to," Kenyon pointed out, "but I've got about as much armour as they have, they can catch me alright!"
"Is there anything you can do without?"
"I can ditch my pack, I suppose, but most of the food's still in there."
"We'll think of something. Keep it in mind for an emergency, though, eh?"
They spent a relatively restful night, with Morgan and Alys on watch again, then in the morning decided to approach the city on foot. Alys had reported there was nowhere to hide the wagon closer to the city anyway, and if they needed to loiter, it would be much less conspicuous without a cart. Morgan spent two hours altering the uniform cloth into long concealing cloaks - the first two attempts were rubbish, but the rest were fine. Then, in their new garb, they began marching towards Abner's stronghold, the fortress citadel of Morss, capital of Morat.
The day was just as the others had been - cold and dry, but today there were clouds beginning to come in from the north, and the wind was rising. It wouldn't be long before the whole sky was overcast, and a huge storm punished the land. They hoped it would arrive tomorrow, after they were inside the city, as it would make sneaking around easier, with any patrols wrapped up in capes and cloaks against the weather. The overcast would also make sneaking up to the citadel itself easier, as their dark cloaks blended nicely with the surroundings in the darkening light. However...
"This bloody sky!" Alys muttered, as they approached the walls at mid-afternoon, lit like early evening. "I can't find any of the landmarks I picked."
"Well, don't you know roughly where we're going?"
"Of course I do! But I picked out a route that would keep us away from the sentries' eyes, and I can't find where it begins!"
"I could Light the way for you," Morgan began, raising a hand.
"No! That'll highlight us to anyone watching."
"Well what are we going to do then? If you miss the start of the route, we'll have to keep going right up to the walls, and then we'll really be in trouble."
"All right! Shut up and let me concentrate! Cullan, you've got good eyes, can you see three fist-sized rocks in a line?"
Cullan had a good look round. "Yes, I think so," he eventually decided. "About fifty yards ahead, slightly to the left?"
"That sounds about right," Alys confirmed. "There should be an old stunted bush not too far beyond it."
They got nearer, then Cullan verified, "yep, I see it. Twenty yards further off the road."
Alys nodded. "Good, that'll be it. That's the start of a gully running parallel to the walls for eighty yards. Cullan, you'd better go first, Kenyon next, then Morgan, I'll go last. When you reach the rocks, turn and run for the bush, the gully starts literally two yards past it."
"Gotcha," Cullan acknowledged as he began moving forward. Alys started to drop back a little. Then, suddenly, Cullan turned sharply left and began running. The others followed in sequence, with Alys bringing up the rear. Within seconds, Cullan passed the bush, and almost dropped out of sight as he skidded down the gully's steep slope. He staggered on a few yards, then turned to see Kenyon slide into view on his back. He rolled out of the way of Morgan as she jumped down, then Alys slid down the slope on her bum. She pushed past the others and motioned them on a dozen yards, then stopped and crouched down. They caught up with her as she waited at a part of the gully that was a bit wider that the rest. They were all panting heavily.
"Okay," Alys said, "we can rest here a bit, have lunch. Wait until nightfall before going on."
"Nightfall? You had trouble finding this place in half-light."
"I've paced out a route to the next marker, alright?" she responded, glaring at Cullan. "Keep your heads down, no loud noises, and no lights or fires, okay?"
"Okay," they agreed. They huddled up against the city-ward side of the gully and delved into Kenyon's pack for some food, which they ate in silence. After about an hour, Morgan said that she felt weighed down.
"What with?" asked Cullan in disbelief. She just shrugged and said that she did. Alys rolled her eyes and offered to take her water bottle and some of her rations for her. Morgan thanked her and passed them over, taking a few loaves of twice-baked bread from her small pouch, so that Alys could put them in her satchel.
Within an hour, it was dark, but they waited for another hour to make sure. Cullan cautiously poked his head up over the edge of the gully. He took a long look round, saw nothing, and ducked back down. They discarded their long robes, and moved off down the gully. They climbed out carefully and silently at the end, and crawled twenty yards to a blasted oak. Standing in it's lee, Alys whispered the next directions to them. There were torches lit at the tops of the towers, less than a mile away, and there was a slight glow from the dry moat in front of the wall, suggesting that bundles of straw were burning at the bottom.
"I think they noticed something earlier," Cullan whispered.
"Tough," Alys replied. "We've got to get to the gate tonight. Now come on."
Following her lead, they moved at a crouch, towards the walls. They made use of the sparse bits of cover that existed, bushes, rocks, dips in the ground. In a particularly large one, they stopped.
"Morgan, which way is north?" Alys hissed.
"Are you lost?" Cullan demanded.
"No! I need to know what angle to take from here." Morgan's outstretched hand fumbled for Alys' in the dark. She found it, and came close enough for her to see her pointing towards the wall. "Thanks. What's the time?"
A pause, then, "a quarter past seven."
"We've got five hours," Cullan moaned. "How far are we from the gate?"
"A mile and a half," replied Alys. "We'll have to go very slowly to reach it undetected from here. We'd better start now."
"Wait," Kenyon said. "Let's eat. We don't want to arrive exhausted at the gate if there's any running around or fighting to be done."
"Good idea," Cullan said. "We'll eat, rest for ten minutes, then be on our way."
"We'd probably be best roped together," Alys said. "We can't risk getting split up."
"The light from the walls should be enough to let us see each other."
"No need to risk it though. Get your rope out, Cullan."
Cullan unwrapped his rope from where he'd tied it round his waist (the grapnel was in his satchel still), and passed the end to Alys. She tied it round her waist and passed it Kenyon, who threaded it through his belt. He passed it to Morgan and tied it round her waist, then Cullan tied the other end to his belt. Then they dug out another loaf of twice-baked bread each and ate in silence, washed down with almost all their water. Then they rested for ten minutes (monitored by Morgan), and when she nudged Kenyon, he nudged Alys, and they moved off. Unfortunately, no-one had nudged Cullan, and he didn't move, so the others jerked to a halt, Kenyon and Morgan bumping into each other and making enough noise to be heard on the battlements. They waited in tense silence for a minute, trying to pick out if they'd been heard - it was unlikely they were seen, as they were still in the dip. A few burning torches were flung from the battlements, landing a long way from where they were, but the sentries knew someone was out there now, that was for sure.
Alys tugged the rope as a signal, and the others passed it on to Cullan, and so they moved off in silence this time. They went very slowly, keeping low. Several times, Alys signalled that they should crawl, so they went even slower. Occasionally, another burning torch or a bundle of straw was flung from the top of the wall, and they all froze. There was no indication that the sentries had seen them, however. Eventually, crawling on their bellies, they came to the edge of the moat, mere yards from the narrow causeway that led across it to the postern gate. There was a slight lip on this side of it, and they sheltered in its lee while they untied the rope. Cullan wrapped it round his waist again and tied it in place, as Alys and Kenyon surveyed the scene.
The moat was alight. At the bottom were at least a dozen bundles of burning straw, illuminating the causeway. It was being watched, that much was obvious. Whether that meant Mordlin's agent could still get the door open at midnight or not, was open to debate. The gate itself was a normal door set into the stonework of the wall. There were buttresses five yards either side, with arrow slits at ground level. There were more arrow slits above the door, and a trap chute above them, for dropping rocks or pouring boiling water or hot sand - oil was both too expensive and fernickety to heat up to pour over attackers. They knew the door would be several inches of solid oak, and the numerous iron nail-heads indicated that it was probably re-inforced with steel plate on the inside. It would also open only outwards, and trying to force it inwards would push it onto the smaller second frame immediately behind it. And once it was opened, anyone on the battlements to either side, or in the buttresses, would instantly be able to tell.
The two warriors wriggled back to Morgan and Cullan. They held a whispered conversation.
"So we can't approach the door without being seen, and we can't wait right outside it for it to be opened, and we don't know if it even is going to be opened. Great! How far is it?"
"Not quite ten yards, I'd say," Alys replied.
"How long do we have?"
"Six minutes," Morgan answered.
Cullan hissed and thumped his forehead into the ground.
"Morgan," Kenyon asked, "do you have any spells that can help us? Keep us hidden, or blind any watchers?"
She shook her head. "Only Simple Illusion, and I don't think I can create one big enough to cover the whole causeway. And if I did, I don't know what it should look like from wherever the watchers are, so they'll see a change anyway."
"Can you tell how many watchers there are?"
"It would take almost all my energy to find them. I can - maybe - tell how many are waiting behind the door, but not in the towers or on the wall."
"So," Cullan said, "we have little choice but to wait and hope that the gate opens in about five minutes."
"And if it does?"
"We run across the causeway and go through, Kenyon first."
"And what if no-one's there to meet us?"
"Friendly, or hostile?"
"We find the way out, hide out in a cellar for a day or two, then make our way to the central tower and Summon The Ravisher."
"And if there's a squad of soldiers on the far side?"
"Same plan, only we don't stop running."
They crawled on their bellies to where they could see the door, and had a fairly straight line to run towards it. Kenyon, Alys and Cullan eased out their swords, and Morgan took a two-handed grip on her staff. They waited. From somewhere inside the city, a gong sounded hollowly. The door did not move. Morgan whispered to Cullan, "they're late."
He didn't bother voicing his reply, which would have been, "or dead."
Then suddenly, the door swung open a few inches. They spent a couple of seconds waiting to see if their eyes were playing tricks, then Kenyon sprang up and sprinted forward, closely followed by Alys.
"Go!" Cullan jumped to his feet and hauled Morgan up with him. He pushed her ahead of him and they both sprinted across the causeway. A hail of crossbow bolts went past them, one bouncing off Kenyon's helmet as he reached the door. He hauled it open and swung inside, Alys hot on his heels. Morgan came through less than a second later, with Cullan less than a yard behind. He slammed the door shut behind him.
There was no-one in the small chamber. "Kenyon - go!" ordered Cullan. The big man hurled himself against the inner door, which, being much lighter than the outer door, burst open. They piled through just as a cascade of boiling water poured through the murder holes in the outer chamber.
The inner chamber was three times the size of the outer, and higher. Wooden steps ran up the rear and right walls, to a platform that led directly to the floor above the gate, and more stairs to the levels above. There was an open doorway in the left wall, and Kenyon led them through at a run. Here they met two bored-looking soldiers who just had enough time to get up before Kenyon and Alys reached them. Alys slashed hers across the face, and he went down, hitting his head on the table he'd been sitting at. Kenyon's attack knocked his opponent out of the way, and Cullan tried stabbing him in the heart as he ran past, but his sword scraped off the man's armour. Alys turned and tried stabbing him in the back of the head, but her blade only raised sparks on the man's chainmail coif. Then Morgan whacked him in the small of the back with her staff, giving Kenyon time to smash his sword down on his shoulder. The man staggered, and Cullan thrust his sword at his face, missing slightly and landing the blow on his neck. He slumped to the floor with a gurgling sound. They caught their breath and ran towards the closed door on the far side of the room. Kenyon kicked it open and they went through, and found themselves facing six men, alerted by the sounds in the next room. Morgan flung out her hand, and a jet of flame sprouted from it. The soldiers jumped out of the way as the four of them edged past to the door on the right wall. Kenyon tried it - locked. "Cullan!"
Cullan darted forward, reaching for his lockpicks. He knew he didn't have long - Morgan's Illusion wouldn't last forever, and the soldiers would soon realise it wasn't actually hot. He knelt at the lock, inserted a pick, twiddled, and it clicked open. "Come on!" he called, getting up. He picked up his discarded shield as Kenyon and Alys went past him, then he pulled Morgan out and hurled his body back against the door. Kenyon added his weight just in time, as a couple of heavy thumps indicated that two of the soldiers had flung themselves against the door. Cullan sheathed his sword and extracted his lockpicks again, this time locking the door. They all breathed a sigh of relief, before hurrying away into the darkness, trying to find somewhere nice and deserted to lie up until the morning.
They found a disused cellar not too many streets away. Cullan tried picking the padlock, but it was too rusty, so Kenyon tried hacking it open with his axe. He made such a mess of the woodwork that it was obvious someone was in there, so they went further on. This time, Cullan was able to pick the lock, and they crept it, Morgan providing some light. It was completely empty apart from some piles of old sacks, and once the trap doors were closed above them, it was pitch dark without Morgan's spell. They dropped their packs and weapons, took off their armour, and wrapped themselves in the sacks to sleep.
Morning came, and with it the sounds of normal daily business above their heads. It was mostly soldiers marching about on patrol, some heavy carts, a few traders perhaps. Thin chinks of light came through the doors, providing just enough light to see by. Around midday, the storm that had been threatening yesterday broke. Water poured in from the street, so they put their water bottles in the flow to fill them up. They spent the day getting as much rest as they could. At around three, the rain eased off, so it was merely a heavy drizzle, not a downpour. Cullan decided it would be a good idea for him to check outside, see if there was anything going on that should worry them, and also try and find a way into the Tower. When it was quiet, Morgan cast a spell, and confirmed that there was no-one around to see Cullan leave. He quickly lifted the doors and slipped out, without his armour, taking only his knife and satchel - he didn't want to arouse suspicion. Thus unencumbered, he slipped away into the citadel, in search of intelligence. He found his way to a tavern, where he spent a good few hours drinking carefully and eavesdropping on interesting conversations. Six hours later, he made his way back to their hideout, thinking he was being followed. He knew nowhere else to go, though, and if things went quickly, he could give whoever it was the slip. He just hoped the others would be quick opening the door for him.
He entered the street where they were hiding at a fast saunter, and ran to the trap doors. He reached down and tapped twice, pause, once, pause, three times. He crouched low near the wall, muttering "come on, come on," under his breath. One of the doors lifted slightly and Alys peered out. He opened it further and swung himself inside, letting the door drop closed with a slight bang. "Someone's on my tail, I don't know how far back," he said. Just then, they heard footsteps approaching purposefully. "Hide," he mouthed. Kenyon and Morgan dived behind the pile of sacks and pulled some over them, covering Morgan's Light, but he and Alys were still on the other side of the cellar.
"Coins," she hissed at him, and quickly hauled her shirt off over her head. Cullan dove into his pocket and pulled out a couple of coins, which he pressed into Alys' hand, dropping another on the floor. Her free hand went to his crotch and he began fondling her pert breasts. The trap door opened. Cullan spared it a brief glance.
"Oy! Piss off! I'm busy!" he growled at the searcher.
"All night," Alys husked, turning and smiling, letting the thin torchlight in the street catch a glint on the coins in her hand. She turned back to Cullan and moved in close, kissing him. He moved one hand to grasp her buttock, and hauled her leg up around his waist as the door closed on a chuckle and a muttered apology. They heard the footsteps moving away, but remained entwined around each other until Kenyon coughed.
"I hope you're not getting carried away there," he said.
"We might be," Cullan answered, reluctantly letting Alys go.
"It's not like it was unpleasant, certainly," she added, handing Cullan back his coins, and bending down to feel for her shirt.
Morgan re-appeared, and with it, her Light. "Why did that man go so quickly?" she asked. She saw Alys half-naked. "And why have you got your shirt off? It's mid-winter, you'll freeze."
There was a silence as the other three, not too many years older than Morgan, tried to think what to say. Eventually, Alys unfroze, and said, "you're right. Maybe I should have a word at some point."
Cullan stepped forward. "I've got a lot to tell you. Everyone get your kit back on."
As they all retrieved their armour and equipment, Cullan squatted down and scratched a rough map on the ground with his knife. The others gathered round him when they were done. "Now," he said, "this is the citadel of Morss. We," he indicated with his knife, "are about here. Our destination," he moved the knife to the other side of the map, where he'd scratched an octagonal shape abutting the main wall, with a large circle inside, abutting the inner part of the octagon, "is here: the main Tower.
"I've marked the main streets as best I remember being told them. They are constantly patrolled, even at night. The side streets won't be safe, either, there are spies and informers everywhere there aren't footpads and muggers. Most people here are either part of the garrison, or supply them, or are servants in the Tower. And if they're not, they're criminals."
"By 'supply the garrison'," Alys asked, "does that also mean..?"
Cullan grinned. "Yes, it does include whores. Your idea."
Alys rolled her eyes as Kenyon joined in the grinning. "Go on," she sighed.
"Getting to the Tower through the streets at night is not recommended. By day, the patrols extend through all the streets, and anyone looking vaguely suspicious is immediately arrested and taken to a guardhouse, where they're interrogated - probably tortured - and if found guilty of anything, their heads go on a spike over the nearest gate. The night patrols can kill on sight if they have cause.
"Now, since last night's disturbance at the South Postern, those on duty have been summarily executed and replaced. The patrols in the southern sector have been doubled, and any group of four with one in armour, three bearing swords, and one with a staff, are to be executed on sight."
"So, if we're seen, we're dead?"
"If we're seen together, we're dead," Cullan corrected. "We could probably get away with it individually, or maybe in pairs, but it's still too risky."
"So how do we get to the Tower, then?"
"I'm coming to that." Cullan moved sideways, and started scratching another map, this time a large one of the Tower. "The main gates are here. There are posterns here and here, and although the East Postern to the city should theoretically be here, it isn't. So the main city has three gates - the main to the north, and two posterns in the south and west - and the Tower has three gates - the main to the southwest, and two posterns to the northeast and southeast. Each one is as heavily defended as the one we came through last night."
"Not very much then," Kenyon snorted.
"Not by men, by walls and murder holes," Cullan retorted. "You've seen the city posterns? Well the Tower posterns are the same, only half size. The outer wall is forty feet high, with towers at each corner of fifty feet. The moat is flooded, and ten feet deep, twelve feet wide. Each postern has two guards on duty at the head of the causeway, and another at the top of each buttress, in addition to any at the arrow slits. The main gate has eight guards outside, and opens outwards. There's a portcullis directly behind it, and a drawbridge in front. I couldn't get any info on what the defences are like inside, but they're likely to be just as formidable. But what I did find out, is that to serve inside the Tower, you have to be specially picked - so the guards inside are going to be tougher than those we dealt with on the way in."
"Like we're ever going to get in, at this rate."
Cullan scratched a small X in the centre of the Tower complex. "What do you think that is?" he asked.
"A well?" hazarded Kenyon.
"No. A sewer entrance."
Cullan went back to the first map and scratched a line from the centre of the Tower complex, directly east, then branched it southwards as it came level with the South Postern. He stopped it near where he'd marked them as being. The lines crossed many of the main streets. "These are the main sewer pipes. There's a grid of them under the city. These two are the largest, all the others drain into them, and they drain into a pit about half a mile west of the West Postern. There's a well-set metal grille to stop animals - and people - getting in, but if you can get in from inside the city, that doesn't matter. Of course, the network has to be inspected and maintained, and the creatures down there fed, so there are manhole covers all over the city. I walked over one on my way back here."
"Are you seriously suggesting we go down into the sewers, and try and find our way through them into the Tower?" Alys asked in disbelief.
"Yes," Cullan replied earnestly.
"Erm," Morgan raised her hand. "Creatures?"
"The results of Abner's breeding pits," Kenyon replied. "They're given free run of the subterranean tunnels to keep intruders out."
"Exactly," confirmed Cullan. "There'll be some tough bastards down there, but if we take precautions, we should be okay."
"So - we're going through the sewers then?"
"Yes. We'll leave at midnight, when we hear the gong. It's not far to the manhole, all we have to do is head north and a little west until we hit a big tunnel, then north until a really big tunnel, then west until it stops, and we see a grating above us."
"How long will it take?"
"Most of the night, probably."
"In that case," Alys said, "we find another cellar to rest up in tomorrow, and we make the attempt tomorrow night."
Cullan shrugged. "Okay. It's about ten o'clock now, if you'll give me a minute to get my kit together, we can be off."
He put his armour on, strapped on his kit, and signalled he was ready. Alys checked through the door, then beckoned them all out. They scrambled out, and Alys lowered the door back quietly. Cullan led the way at speed down a few random streets, before finding a likely cellar. He picked the lock, and they slipped in. It smelt damp and stale, and there was a constant drip of water in one corner (which they placed their water bottles under). There were a few old packing crates, some still with straw in them, which they pulled out to cushion the floor with. Then they stripped their kit again, and went to sleep.
They woke up in the morning, and Cullan pulled a couple of large loaves of bread from his satchel. "Got these last night," he told them as they tucked in.
"I'm going to have to try and get out sometime today," Alys said. "We need more food."
"We've got enough, haven't we?"
"Only just enough to last us 'til the end of the day. We'll need more if we're stuck in the Tower for any length of time."
"Which we probably will be," Kenyon said. "Remember what Mordlin told us about the Powerstones?"
"About Abner having ten stashed around the building? Yeah, so?"
"I can't Summon a Demon without at least a tenth-level Powerstone," Morgan said. "We'll need to steal some of Abner's."
"Okay - which means we'll have to do some reccying, and there'll be hiding, and ..." Cullan groaned. "Alright! We need more food. But I, for one, am not moving."
"I didn't think you would be."
She left their hideout around mid-morning, leaving Cullan and Morgan trying to sleep. Kenyon was up and about, practising with his scimitar. With no-one to practice against (Cullan refused to do anything that might make a noise), though, he gave it up after an hour. Alys returned just before midday, with a cured ham and some bread and cheese. "Not much, I'm afraid," she said. "Things are really expensive if you're not the army, here."
"Well? You've got $50 Mordlin gave you."
"Yes, in gold. The merchant looked at me funny when I paid with two of the coins, imagine his reaction if I paid with ten? Besides, how would I explain buying a huge amount of food that'll keep?"
"Don't need it to keep for more'n a day."
"A day which includes a trek through the sewers."
They ate lunch, then Kenyon persuaded Alys to help practice with his scimitar. Despite Cullan's objections that it would be too noisy, it would attract attention, they spent the next four hours sparring. Cullan and Morgan watched in the dim light available through the cracks in the door. Alys was noticeably the better of the two. By the time evening came, it was too dark to see properly, so they stopped. They relaxed on the straw next to Cullan and Morgan, who had been playing noughts and crosses on a scratched grid with coins - copper for Morgan, gold for Cullan.
"I hope you're not playing for stakes," Kenyon managed as he thumped down.
"Of course not," Cullan replied. "These are the only things we've got for counters, and we can't scratch too much into the floor, we'd cover it in minutes!"
"As long as you're not teaching her dissolute ways," Alys chided.
"No!" Morgan protested. "It's just a game."
"If you ask me," Cullan muttered, "she needs to learn some dissolute ways. Remember that Elven boy up at Rast? And last night when I got back? She's going to be in serious trouble someday if'n she don't get a clue, quick."
"What do you mean?" asked Morgan.
"Morgan - how old are you?" asked Alys after an awkward silence in which her male colleagues looked pointedly at her.
"Uhhh ... Could you excuse us for a moment?" she said, beckoning Cullan and Kenyon to the other side of the cellar with her. She looked them both squarely in the eye, then hissed, "okay- I'm only four years older than her! I should not be having this conversation with her!"
"Well, I can assure you that you'd be a damn sight better at it than I would," Cullan replied, "and I'm nine years older than her."
Morgan called across the cellar. "If it's any help, I'll be sixteen in five days."
"New Year's Day," Kenyon noted. "No wonder she's got a Destiny."
"There must be hundreds of kids born on New Year's Day," Cullan replied. "Just as there're hundreds of kids born every day. How many Demons do you see popping up all over the place?"
"Acutally, there's probably more kids born on the first of September, or the first of March, or the first of June, than on the first of January, if you think about it," Kenyon said.
"What? How d'you work that out?"
"Well, the Turn of the Year party - September. The midsummer solstice - March, and the harvest festival - June," he replied. "There's no big celebration goes on in March, though."
"Look, the point is, I'm only four years older than her," Alys told them again, "and in a week, I'll only be three years older."
"When's your birthday?"
"You were right," Cullan grinned, "midsummer." Alys glared at him.
"Well, I'm a bloke, so I shouldn't be having that conversation with a girl anyway," Kenyon said, "but I'm only six years older than her, and I was born in April."
"Well don't look at me," Cullan snapped. "I may be the oldest of us lot, but that doesn't mean I have any responsibility to make sure she grows up a bit less than clueless."
"Oh, and I do, do I?" demanded Alys.
"You're a woman!"
"I'm a - a youth!" she snapped. "I'm nineteen - she needs the conversation with her mother, or a nurse, not, not - her older sister!"
"Keep it down!" Cullan hissed.
"What? You think she'll hear?"
"No, I think the bloody patrols will!"
"I mean - she must know something," Cullan insisted. "She brought her weaving stuff to remind her of home, she grew up on a sheep farm or something." He turned to Alys. "When did you first have sex?"
She snorted. "When did you last have sex?"
"Last night, nearly."
"And actually?" Alys almost snarled.
Cullan blinked, then, "three months ago, when I laid that baroness for her diamond necklace. You?"
Alys rolled her eyes. "Harvest festival. Under a table, don't know who."
"Whuh?" He shrugged. "Couple of months back. A whore in a bar. What's it matter?"
"We're all experienced adults then, aren't we? We've experienced it, we've done the deed. Why can't one of us tell her about it so she doesn't get a shock when the time comes?"
"'One of us' meaning 'me', I suppose?" Alys enquired.
"Well, yeah," Cullan nodded. "I mean - oh come on, when did you lose your virginity? How old were you?"
"Fourteen. You see? You were younger than her when it happened. So was I. Kenyon?"
"Oh. Good present. Anyway - she's ... clueless! Somehow, growing up on a farm didn't drop her any hints. And that Elf at Rast, he kissed her and she was like, 'uhh?'. And goosed her, and she had to ask about it."
"Yes, but Cullan, we're not exactly suited to explaining the Facts of Life to her, are we?"
"Why not? We know what they are. And, hey, we can always give a practical demonstration," he grinned.
Alys glared at him. "Do you want me to break your nose?"
"Sorry. But look, she's oblivious to it all! When she gets back to Rast, that Elf is going to walk all over her!"
"If she gets back to Rast," Kenyon pointed out. "She may not survive this Quest," he said in the following silence, "and neither might we. I say we leave it be until we claim our reward from Gort, and we can ask one of the medicos to have a chat with her or something. That sound good to you? 'Cos it sounds good to me."
Alys nodded. "Yeah, sounds good."
"Okay. Reasonable enough," Cullan agreed. They all nodded. "Right, let's get our heads down, so we're nice and fresh come midnight for our subterranean wanderings."
"What'll we tell her?"
"I thought we said - nothing."
"No - we've been standing over here for the last five minutes having an argument about something that she'll easily work out concerns her. What are we going to tell her?"
"We'll tell her we've decided to tell her on her birthday."
"And on her birthday, and we're not yet back in Darash?"
"We tell her we'll tell her when we get to Darash."
"Okay," said Alys. "But I warn you, one more attempt to get me to talk to her, and I will break your nose."
Cullan got up from the bed at the sounds of increased activity in the corridor. He listened carefully. "They're starting the search," he said. "Doesn't sound like any new people have arrived yet, though."
Alys pressed her ear to the door as Kenyon got up and struggled into his armour. "Are they coming closer?" she asked, "I can't tell."
"Yes," replied Cullan. He looked around. "Kenyon, take my spare armour and get in the wardrobe - hold the door shut! Alys, tidy the bed and get under it, quickly!" He unbarred the door and took one last look around the room. He seized the torn cloak they had ripped for bandages, bundled it up, and slid under the bed. He squeezed next to Alys and pulled the cloak round both of them. "Blanket!" he hissed at her. She wriggled as she pulled her blanket from her satchel and manoeuvred it over their legs. With the cloak covering their heads, they looked like a pile of old garments.
They were just in time. The door opened with a bang and two men came in. One rattled the wardrobe door, the other bent down and peered under the bed. "Nothing," he said, standing up. "Come on, next one."
"Door's locked," the other protested.
"D'you really think they're going to be thick enough to hide in the wardrobe? All four of them?"
"S'pose not," the other replied. They left, closing the door behind them.
Alys and Cullan unwrapped themselves and slid out from under the bed. Cullan knocked on the wardrobe door and Kenyon opened it.
"That's lucky," Cullan said, "they think there's four of us."
"There are four of us - if we count Morgan."
"But Morgan's not here - so while there are still only three of us, we have a chance."
"And that chance is, what?"
Cullan put a finger to his lips. He went to the door, listened, heard nothing and opened it carefully. He peered out, and saw an empty corridor in both directions. He brought his head back in. "Kenyon, bring that spare armour, bung it in your pack! Both of you, come on!"
Kenyon turned and rummaged in the wardrobe for a few seconds, stuffing the guard's uniform and armour into his pack. He tossed the helmet to Alys, who put it on her head. Seeing that they were ready, Cullan checked the corridor again, then darted out, and began hurrying for the vault. The others followed him.
"Cullan! What are you doing?"
"Being a sneaky bastard," he replied. He reached the door, where the two guards' glaives had been propped in the doorway. He picked one up and fed it through the grille in the door, then took the other. "Kenyon - swap you for the armour, quick!" He passed the polearm to Alys, who held it while Kenyon dug out the armour, then she passed it over to Kenyon as Cullan hurriedly slipped out of his leather armour and pulled on the guard's uniform. Kenyon gave him back the glaive and put his leather armour in his pack. Cullan hefted the weapon and held it at the hip. "Right, you two, downstairs, in front of me. You're sewer mercenaries, and I've got orders to take you back to the main gate."
"Then what the Hell were we doing up here then?" asked Alys as they started down.
"Having it away, out of the way of anyone who might disturb you," Cullan said with a grin.
Kenyon glanced over his shoulder. "Oh, so suddenly I'm the lucky one? I must remember that."
"Neither of you are the lucky one," Alys told them in an acid tone.
"Keep moving and shut up," Cullan ordered. "And have the decency to look embarrassed - you've just been caught in flagranté, remember."
Alys stuck her tongue out at him.
Down in the dungeons, three men were looking cautiously at the door that should have had two men guarding it.
"I say we get the sergeant," said one.
"Why? It's not as if anyone's got down here."
"You never know. Besides, where are they?"
One of them reached out and rattled the door. "Locked," he said.
"Perhaps they got bored and went back to barracks."
"Deserting their posts? They'll be executed!"
"Maybe they got hauled away on the search? I mean, what's going to happen down here?"
"One would have been left, though."
"Suppose. Alright - you two stay here, I'll go get the sergeant. We can look inside when he gets back."
Cullan, Kenyon and Alys were almost at the level of the chamberlain's office when two guards climbing the stairs intercepted them.
"'s alright, lads, I've got 'em," Cullan said confidently.
"Got 'em for what?" asked one.
"And who are they?"
"Sewer mercenaries," Cullan sneered. "Thought they'd 'ave a little fun before they went down tonight. Caught 'em a couple'a levels up, in a storeroom."
"So why din'tcha wipe 'em? We got orders to kill intruders."
"Sarge said to bring 'em back down to the main gate. Don't wanna waste good mercenaries do we? 'sides, you should of seen the arse on her," Cullan leered, "we'll be making her say sorry real personal later this afternoon, I reckon."
"Oh, what? They were at it?"
"Yeah! Should'a seen 'em jump when we burst in! Cwoarr, I'm tellin' yer!"
"Get 'em out of 'ere!" one of the guards said in despair, with a hint of disgust. The two groups passed each other, and went on their separate ways.
The sergeant unlocked the door to the dungeon and opened it. "You two wait here," he said, "you come with me."
The sergeant and the other guard went into the corridor, swords drawn. They peered into each cell as they passed. They saw the glaives taken from the original guards. Then they came to the tunnel room. They saw the body. They both went in and the sergeant checked it. "Dead - throat cut. Cold too. Whoever's running around the Tower came in through here some time ago." He stood up. "You go up to the throne room and report to the boss - the intruders came in through the sewer entrance in the dungeon, late last night or early this morning. They're not above killing from ambush, and they probably want to try and get out the same way they came in. Well go on then!"
The guard ran off. The sergeant walked back to the corridor and resumed checking the cells, carefully. He peered into the last one on the left and thought that what he saw was - odd.
Morgan shivered under the pallet. She had heard the two soldiers find the body in the tunnel room, and now one of them was coming in! She tensed herself, trying to get the shivering to stop, but she was alone, and scared. She hadn't even thought to grab a handful of straw as she'd pulled the pallet on top of her. She could hear the man coming closer, hear his boots against the same stone floor that was leaching the heat from her body. He was very close now - perhaps a yard or two away. He came closer. Morgan was sure he was right on top of her, and screwed her eyes up in the effort to stop shivering. It didn't work. There was a quick, heavy step, and she felt the pallet being pulled off of her. She opened her eyes, saw the guard with his sword pointed at her midriff, and did the first thing that came into her mind. She reached out with one hand, grasped his boot and felt warm. The sergeant's boot burst into flame, which rapidly spread up his entire body, engulfing him. He screamed. She leapt to her feet, and ran from the cell, the burning man stumbling after her. She ran straight past the astonished guards who did nothing to stop her, up the stairs until she was sure she was on the right level, and ran straight to the room next to the chamberlain's office. Which wasn't there.
Abner tensed on his throne. He closed his eyes and sent his thoughts to Toeren. "One of the intruders is a powerful wizard. Ensure that each search party and guard unit has at least one crossbowman in it. The wizard is the priority. Kill him first." He opened his eyes just as a guard came running in with a message from the dungeons.
Cullan guided the others to the room next to the chamberlain's office by hissing directions to them. They met no more patrolling guards, and the ones at the stairhead confirmed that the chamberlain was in - he would want to review their contract in light of their conduct. They got into the room and shut the door. Cullan swore. "Shit! I'd hoped Morgan might be here by now!"
"Perhaps no-one's searched the dungeons yet," Alys suggested.
"Or they have, and not found her," Kenyon added.
"Yeah, but that means I've got to go and get her," Cullan moaned. He began removing his stolen armour. Kenyon took out the leather armour from his pack and passed it to him.
"So what are you going to do now, exactly?" Alys asked.
"Climb down the wall outside, go in through the window below, blag my way downstairs, whistle Happy Birthday, and bring Miss Wonderkid right back here."
Alys looked out of the window. "Can you make that climb?"
"With my rope, yes," Cullan replied. He unwound the rope from his waist and dug out the grapnel from his satchel. "Leave it dangling from the windowsill, make sure it doesn't fall off."
"You're coming back that way?"
"Might do, depends what goes on," he replied, climbing onto the window and hooking the grapnel over the sill. "If I come in the door, you can reel it in," he told them benevolently. He took hold of the rope, and carefully stepped backwards out of the window. He walked slowly backwards down the wall, paying out the rope as he went. He had to skip sideways a considerable distance to reach the only window below, and he rested on the ledge carefully. He kicked the window open, and swung away from the wall on the recoil. He hit the wall feet-first two feet from the window, so skipped over to it again, and climbed through, tying the rope to the central pillar. There was a foot left over, and Cullan wished, not for the first time, that he'd had the money to buy ten yards of it, instead of just five.
He was in a mostly empty room - a large storeroom, probably - and he could hear a little noise outside, but not enough to worry him unduly. Nevertheless, he drew his sword before carefully opening the door.
Morgan was even more scared now. She was out of breath, and one of the guards from the stair head was close behind her, calling for her to stop, and she couldn't find the chamberlain's office, let alone the door next to it. She was sure she'd got the right floor, she must have done. She turned to see the guard approaching, the tip of his polearm - a glaive, the others had called it - pointed at her chest. She readied her staff, preparing to at least try and defend herself.
Then the unmarked door behind her opened.
She spun on the spot. "Cullan!" she cried in relief.
His eyes widened briefly in surprise, and he stepped out into the corridor. He saw the approaching guard. "Get in!" he shouted. Morgan needed no further invitation. She ran past him into the storeroom, he followed her and slammed the door. There was a splintering thud as the point of the glaive embedded itself in the door.
"How did you know?" Morgan was asking, breathlessly. "This isn't the right floor, the chamberlain's office isn't here, how did you find me?"
"Shut up and grab that rope!" Cullan ordered, leaning against the door. There was a thud followed by a yelp of pain as the guard shoulder charged it and nearly shattered his elbow.
"What rope?" Morgan asked.
"The one tied to the window!" Cullan replied, frantically looking for something to bar or wedge the door with. "Untie it, shout up to Kenyon to haul away, and hang on!"
"Where does it go to?"
"Where you're supposed to be!" he replied, counting in his head. He flung himself at the door at the same time as the guard tried again. He bounced off as the door jerked open six inches, but he managed to push it shut, and leaned against it.
"What about you?" Morgan asked, from the middle of the room.
"I'll be fine - go!"
"How will you get out?"
"I'll think of something! Now will you grab that fucking rope!"
Morgan ran across the room and untied the rope from the window pillar. She stood on the windowsill and tied it round her waist as another thud against the door revealed the guard hadn't given up. Cullan was braced against it. He winced, but the door stayed closed. Morgan called upwards, "Kenyon! It's me! Pull me up - please!"
Kenyon stuck his head out the window above and saw Morgan waving. "Right!" he called back, and reached out to grab the rope. He heaved, and Morgan was pulled up. Alys took hold of the rope behind him and anchored it as Kenyon pulled on the rope, bringing Morgan closer to safety by the second.
As soon as Morgan disappeared out of sight, Cullan picked up his sword, jumped out of the doorway, and braced himself. The door crashed open, and the guard ran, unready, into the room. Cullan swung at his face, and slashed it open right across the jaw. The guard was felled instantly, and Cullan booted him in the stomach just to make sure. He then shut the door and heaved the man's body up against it. He breathed a sigh of relief, sheathed his sword, then put his head in his hands as he realised he would now have to try climbing up at least fifteen feet of wall, a hundred feet or more above the ground, without a rope - at least until he got below the window he was aiming for.
Up above him, Morgan was now safely in the room, and Kenyon was paying out the rope again. "You've got to help him, he's in trouble, Cullan's in trouble, you've got to help him!" she was babbling.
"How is he in trouble?" asked Alys, kneeling down and holding her by the shoulders.
Morgan seemed to focus. "He's fighting a guard. A guard's trying to get into the room he's in, and he's not keeping the door shut!"
"All right," Alys said calmly. "We can lower the rope, but Kenyon can't climb, and I'm too hurt to fight well. He'll have to climb out the window towards the rope."
"But it's away! It's away to the side!" Morgan wailed.
"We can't move the rope sideways!" Alys snapped. "It has to point straight down, that's how the world works!"
Morgan froze. "Not my world," she said after a short pause. She hurried over to the window and leaned out. Kenyon grabbed her.
"Careful!" he said.
Morgan peered intently at the window Cullan was through. She touched the rope with one hand. The lower end of it began to move sideways towards the window. It smoothly slid over the stones and stayed where it was put - with the free end in the middle of the window, the rope as stiff as a pole.
Cullan couldn't believe his eyes. He rubbed them to make sure. No, the rope was still there. He took hold with one hand, climbed onto the windowsill, grabbed with the other hand, stepped onto the ledge, and began to climb as the rope slowly unstiffened. He was aware of Morgan grinning at him from the window above, then she withdrew. He climbed up to the window, Kenyon and Alys helped him through it, and he collapsed on the ground, out of breath. As Kenyon hauled in the rope, he asked, somewhat crookedly, "right, so, what happens now?"
© Brian Wakeling. GURPS® is © Steve Jackson Games.