The Vault, Chapter 3:
We approached the tower but cautiously. I led the group using the trees farthest from the tower as cover, keeping my eyes on the structure for any movement. There were no footprints or signs of life. It stood still amid the snow drift, a sentinel seemingly as eternal and natural as the rock spires on the mountain top.
For some minutes, we stayed behind the closest tree to the tower, biding our time. There was a wooden door at its base, half-buried in snow. At my signal, the four of us raced across the gulf between the tree and the door. I put a shoulder into it, and we were inside.
The vestibule beyond the door could have been a mausoleum for its stillness. Polearms for the guard stacked against the wall, beginning to rust. Above them were casks which emitted a foul odor. I opened one and took a smell. Sulphur mixed with lime, an incendiary used in castle sieges.
Without a word, the four of us rose up the stone steps, flight after flight, until we reached the trapdoor above us. I pushed it open and we entered the tower’s apex, the turret.
Open windows offered a view for miles around, but the room itself was plain as the rest of the tower. Stacks of large boxes lay upright or on their sides. A clarion bell hung above. A circular wooden table was filled with fruit and smoked meats. Mishkemo eyed the feast greedily, and I shook my head.
“I was only thinking,” Mishkemo said defensively. “There must be men who guard this tower. Vampires have no need of food like this.”
“Quite incorrect,” said a dead voice, and then four things happened almost simultaneously. First we each turned to see the origin of the voice; second, a dozen upright boxes opened; third, twelve Vampyr emerged from them; fourth, the vampire who emerged next to Mishkemo slashed out, cutting Mishkemo’s neck almost to the bone. The stout swordsman dropped to his knees, clutching his throat, as his blood washed down over him.
I instinctively put myself between the vampires and Laldis. I don’t think they saw the child.
“Of course, we don’t eat human food,” said the vampire, between licks of his claws, savoring Mishkemo’s blood. “But that doesn’t mean we have no use for it.”
Another vampire obligingly opened up one of the boxes lying flat. Within was a human guardsman, gagged and chained, pale, in a daze from blood loss. The vampire then picked up a small piece of smoked meat from the table, removed the man’s gag, and fed him.
“We must keep our cattle healthy,” the first vampire grinned.
Mishkemo lay still on the floor in a pool of blood. The three of us moved towards the center of the room, Taishille and I trying to keep Laldis blocked from view.
“You saw us coming?” Taishille asked.
“I don’t want to lie, no, we did not,” the vampire replied, looking to the window. “In truth, we had more important things to observe. See there to the north? That’s the refugee enclave at Jyrbrid in flames. A few days ago, we spied a group of refugees from the tower, and tracked them to a cave under a waterfall.”
Taishille and I exchanged a look. While all eyes were to the window, I flipped open the trap door with my boot, and Laldis slipped down below.
“It’s a really pity for you and us that you decided to pay a visit,” the vampire continued, turning back to Taishille and me. “You might have lived a little while longer. We could have watched you from here, and track you to your friends. Ah well, as our lord the Pale King would say, it all comes down to fate.”
Without warning, the vampire and two others lurched at me. I unsheathed my blade and stepped back, losing my balance, and tumbling down the trapdoor. I continued falling head over heels down the stone steps, as I heard from above the trapdoor slamming shut. Before I reached the bottom, I could hear Taishille screaming.
I tried to pull myself up where I landed in the vestibule at the ground level. My left leg would not oblige. It was obviously broken. Laldis quickly helped pull me up.
“We have to help Taishille!” the boy cried.
“She’s gone,” I groaned. “We need to make certain the vampires here in the tower cannot track us or anyone else.”
I pointed to the barrels of sulfur and lime.
We watched the tower burn from the nearby woods, flames clinging to the stone walls as if it were a hungry beast, trying to eat what it couldn’t consume. It wouldn’t burn it down, of course, but it would reduce everything and everyone in it to ash. I knew nothing could escape, but it felt good to watch the image from my dream be revealed.
I don’t know how long we stood there until I felt Laldis take my arm. “I’m cold, and we still have a long walk to go on that leg of yours.”
We limped through the snow for hours. I felt no pain, only numbness.
“What will happen to us if we find the Seekers?” Laldis finally asked.
“They’ll give you shelter,” I grunted. “They’ll fix me up. Send me out for more stuff.”
“What do they want it for?”
“You should have asked Taishalle. She could have explained it better. They want to preserve what they can of this world because it is the end of mankind on Uuld. They are performing a ritual to send the survivors and these artifacts to another world.”
Laldis had more questions, of course, but I told him that was enough to know. We didn’t speak, saving our energy and strength.
“I thought the Klaueri mine was around here,” Laldis said when we reached a cliffside littered with enormous boulders. His voice raised in panic. “Are we lost?”
It had been many years since I had been in the area myself, but I concentrated, looking around. That was when I saw the vine on one of the boulders with pale pink blossoms, and the snail crawling along its leaves. I smiled and had Laldis help me around to the other side of the boulder and the hidden entrance to the mine.
The mine looked abandoned still, clotted with dust and cobwebs, but I could tell as a tracker how it had all been deliberately placed and assembled to give that effect. We passed silently through as the darkness away from the red light of the sun enveloped us, and suddenly, I felt a blade at my throat.
It was swiftly withdrawn. A torch flickered to life and I recognized one of the Seeker guards, a giant of a man named Aberkenavy.
“We didn’t think you’d find your way, Dakke,” he smiled, grasping my hand. “Where are Taishalle and Mishkemo? And who have you here?”
“They are with the ancestors,” I replied. “I would be with them as well, if not for young Master Laldis of Arjvid’s End. He saw the symbol in the vent, and supported me when I broke my leg like a fool.”
“We’ll get you healed up,” Aberkenavy said before turning to Laldis. “The Seekers always have a space for a new hero. Welcome.”
Laldis and I followed the Seeker guard and his torch down the maze of tunnels deep into the Klaueri mine. Before I saw life, I smelled the familiar sweet incense and heard the familiar but still uncanny mystical chanting. We were soon in an enormous cavern, spacious enough to house a village, the new home of the Seekers.
The edges of the cave housed all one might expect in any refugee camp, the means to supply, feed, and support several hundred souls. At the center, a vast spell boiled in suspension, rolling in the air, a thing of fire and air, over the glyph that held it. Eight Seeker Mystics stood at the outer angles of the symbol, slowly dancing, chanting, strengthening the spell incrementally, second by second.
Salarina, one of the Seeker Mystics who was not at that moment performing the ritual saw me before I saw her. I felt Laldis grip my arm in panic, and I understood because Salarina was a wizened old crone with bedraggled hair and fierce eyes.
“Do you have it?” she hissed.
I took the Amulet of the Vandabar from my satchel and handed it to her. The moment Salarina had it in her claw-like hands, she breathed in relief, and her eyes turned kind. She was no longer a witch, but a grandmother. I felt Laldis’s grip on me relax.
“Thank you,” Salarina said. “This will aid us greatly, and be a treasure to be revered in the New Land. But there is more to be recovered and brought back to this new Vault before we take leave. Once you have healed, we will give you your next quest.”
“Do we have time?” I asked.
Salarina scowled. “I wish I knew. We managed to escape the attack on the old Vault with all of the artifacts and most of our lives, but it has forced us to begin the ritual anew. It will likely be weeks, maybe months before the spell is complete and the gateway open.”
“And the vampires may find us here,” Laldis whispered.
Salarina nodded, and turned away. No comforting words for a frightened child.
“What is that on the back of your cloak?” I asked, and stepped forward to see it more closely. Her ragged clothes were flecked with gold dust.
“The last vestiges of worth from this old mine, I suppose,” she said before looking at me, curiously. I imagine I was smiling.
“I dreamt of gold on a dirty cloth,” I said. “Against all odds, I think we will succeed.”
Check out Part 1 and 2 of The Vault..