The Vault, Chapter 2:
It was a two story house, battered by the elements, but still clinging to streaks of peeling green paint.
“This was in a dream I had,” Taishille said.
“I had the same dream,” I replied. Miskhemo nodded, acknowledging that he too remembered it. We stepped back so we could see the windows of the second floor, and just as in our dream, there was a candle burning in the window.
“Vampires have no need of candlelight to see,” Miskhemo said. “That must have been lit by a survivor.”
“We move on,” Taishille said. “Our quest is to get the Amulet of the Vandabar back to the Vault. We are not rescuers of men.”
“I am not an expert of omens like you Seekers,” I said. “But shouldn’t they be investigated rather than ignored?”
Taishille flashed me a hard look, but then followed me as I broke the lock on the door of the house and entered.
There were not the shambles I expected in the downstairs rooms. They were simply furnished and recently dusted. A rough wooden flight of stairs led up, and the three of us quietly, slowly ascended.
My nose told me what to expect when we entered the first room at the top of the stairs. The bodies of a man, a woman, and two little girls lay putrefying on the bed. It was a ghastly sight, made worse by the care and honor by which they had been arranged, as if at rest.
In the room next door, a young boy, perhaps 9 years of age, sat by the candle burning in the window. He had been drawing, and he looked up from his pad at us and smiled. His face was clean, his auburn hair neatly combed, but he was very thin.
“Hello, I’m Laldis,” he said.
“I’m Dakke,” I replied. “This is Miskhemo and Taishille. This is your home?”
Laldis nodded and went to his closet and picked up a bag. “My mother told me before she died that someone would come to help me go to a safe place. I’m ready.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Taishille said calmly. “You are probably safer here than on the journey we have ahead of us.”
“I’m not afraid,” Laldis said. “I think you’ll have trouble keeping up with me!”
Taishille and I looked at each other, but it was Miskhemo who spoke. “I think we were sent a message to bring you along. Let’s go.”
As the now four of us set out of town, Laldis told us his story while gnawing on some of our roasted rabbit meat we were carrying. His father ran the miners’ guild in Arjvid’s End. It was an isolated hamlet, with few visitors, so by the time anyone there heard about the Vampyr invasion of Uuld, they were already trapped. A few souls tried to leave to bring supplies back, but they never returned. The vampires never visited, so their fate was to die slowly of want.
Laldis knew the ways of the mountains almost as well as I did, and as promised had no problem keeping up with us over the next five days as we crossed the steep peaks. Descending the heights was as fraught as ascending it. It was an agonizing path, slow, treacherous. We took our time but we felt exposed on the cliff side.
Finally, we reached the ledge which lead to the Vault’s hidden entrance. At last we breathed easily, crossing the familiar terrain to the waterfall which fell over the cave opening.
“Aw, poor little thing,” Laldis said when we were almost to the waterfall. He pointed to a bat with a broken wing, chirping in pain, trying to take flight. A moment later, a viper sprung out from behind a rock and struck the bat. It began swallowing it while it was still alive.
“Wait,” I said, and I looked to Miskhemo and Taishille. “Do you remember that?”
They nodded, color drained from their faces.
“It’s a trap,” Taishille whispered.
Miskhemo said nothing. He just pointed up, and I knew what he was suggesting. There was a small tunnel used as a vent higher up on the cliff.
The four of us crawled up the cliff side as quietly and quickly as we could, and I led them to the vent opening. I shimmied myself down, keeping myself steady with my back pressed to one side and my hands and feet helping me down inch by inch. When I reached the chamber below, I helped Miskhemo, then Taishille, and finally Laldis down.
“This is really weird –“ Laldis started to say, a little too loudly, before we quieted him. The lad had no knowledge of vampires and how strong their senses are.
The chamber we were in was a smokehouse to preserve meats for the Seekers of the Vault. Huge slabs of venison, pig carcasses, and dozens of fish specimen hung from the ceiling surrounding a smoldering fire on the floor. It had been tended recently.
I opened the door, careful not to let it creak. It wasn’t open but a few inches when I saw the bodies and blood. I waved the others off and crept down the hallway by myself. After a few moments, I returned, and shut the door quietly behind me.
“They’re gone,” I said. “They’re all gone.”
“I need to see,” said Miskhemo, trying to push past me.
I pushed back and shook my head. “We’re not alone.”
“What about all of the relics?” Taishille whispered.
I shook my head. “There’s nothing but bodies and vampires waiting for people like us to return. We need to go.”
“Where will we go?” Taishille insisted.
“I know where to go,” Laldis piped up, and pulled out his pad and charcoal. “That’s the weird thing I saw on the vent. Someone scratched this on the wall.”
We gathered around as Laldis drew a slash and two circles on the pad.
“That could be anything,” Miskhemo shook his head.
“No, it’s the sign of Klaueri,” Laldis insisted. “It was a gold mine my father used to manage, but they closed it off years ago. It’s about ten miles away.”
I knew the Klaueri mine, and I agreed that the symbol Laldis had seen and sketched bore a resemblance to the mark designating it.
“If there’s a second Vault, the Klaueri mine would be a smart place for the Seekers to locate it,” I said. “Of course, ten miles in this terrain is more like twenty, and it will take the better part of the day to get to it.”
I was expecting some objections, because it was a lot of suppositions, but everyone needed hope. The four of us crawled back up the ventilation shaft, one by one, and began the trek south towards the mine.
We had to climb even higher into the Paerentians, where there was permanent snowfall and tall pines. I had been overly optimistic calling it the equivalent of twenty miles, for the slipperiness of the path forward forced us to press on even slower than before. As we rounded a curving stone cirque, we got our first glimpse of a tall white tower on the next peak ahead.
“It’s the same bloody tower from the dream,” Mishkemo muttered. “What do we do? Is it a warning or is it a sign we’re going in the right direction?”
“It could be both,” said Taishille. She looked at me with a half-smile. “Shouldn’t the omens be investigated rather than ignored?”
To be continued..