Well I've got two chapters presentable, so here, for your enjoyment, is what I've got so far of the new and improved TSB. x] So um... have fun. It's like a hundred times better this draft, though still not perfect obviously. XD
Be on your guard;
stand firm in the faith;
1 Corinthians 16:13
Chapter 1 - Two Hundred YearsEdit
“Trinitus, give me strength!”
The ancient phrase echoed through Lance’s head as she closed her book. With a sigh, she stroked the smooth, worn cloth cover. The Reign of King Richald, read the front, in ornate lettering. One of her favorites. The mousemaid never grew tired of reading the last part; how, two hundred years ago, King Richald had saved Peromia.
“Lance.” A voice cut into her distant thoughts, and Lance looked up.
Niegra, her best friend, had joined her in the bow of the ship. The pegasus’s black mane, streaked with bright blue chalk, whipped in the breeze, as did her matching tail. Lance glanced down at her own messy scarlet braid. She always wished she could put color in her hair, but nothing really went with this shade of hair very well.
“We’re here, Lance,” Niegra repeated. “Are you coming ashore, or are you going to stay here reading all day?”
Lance looked up, hugging her book as she stood. “You know you’d rather stay and read too,” she chuckled, waggling the book temptingly in her friend’s face.
Niegra’s blue eyes watched the book longingly. “True. I’d rather read than do anything else, but we’ve got to go. Remember, Baron Anglo said we could come only if we help him.”
Lance gave a quick, playful pout, shoving the book in a bag that sat on the sun-warmed deck next to her. “Yeah. And if I don’t ‘make any trouble’.” Her paws made sarcastic quotation marks in the air.
“Gentle with that book,” said Niegra, a bit anxiously, as Lance swung the bag carelessly across her back.
Without further reply, the mouse padded across the deck of the ship, leaving her friend to hurry along behind.
A few minutes later, both girls rushed ashore, catching up to the rest of the group that had come from Terraqua. It had been a several-hour-long trip from the fortified island to the capital of Peromia, and they both staggered slightly from the feeling of solid ground beneath them once more. They straggled along in the back of the Baron’s party, and for the first time, Lance had a good look at the city.
Caer Peromia, towering above everything else, was the first thing anyone saw from miles away. Its graceful white towers and turrets stood out against the sky like snow. Sunlight flashed here and there on the armor of the royal guards atop the wall, and the wind fluttered tiny blue flags, which, though not visible from this far away, Lance knew were decorated with the crest of the Golden Unicorn.
Below the palace, the city spread like a tiled blanket, interrupted only by the calm, wide river, in which sat the island Caer Peromia had been built on, many centuries ago.
Lance wasn’t sure how many centuries, exactly. She wasn’t great with numbers.
Niegra would know, but Lance didn’t bother asking. She didn’t feel like getting a lecture.
The clip-clopping of Niegra’s hooves on the cobblestones comforted Lance, who rode on the pegasus’s back. She had been in the city only a few times before, and though it awed her, it also gave her an unreasonable feeling of anxiety. It wasn’t that she was scared- not at all. Nothing scared Lance. Except maybe spiders, and sea monsters. But big cities gave her an empty, icky feeling in her stomach, and she didn’t know why. She did her best to shrug it off, focusing instead on Caer Peromia.
“Can you believe we’re finally going inside?” The mouse girl leaned down to speak quietly into her friend’s ear. “Into the palace! How awesome is that?”
The ear pivoted in her direction. “Ooh, I know!”
Lance felt her friend’s whole body give an excited shiver, and she shifted her bottom into a more comfortable position.
“And we’re going to be spending a lot of time in there.”
They certainly were.
This was not just any celebration Peromia was preparing for… it was going to be the biggest one in the memories of most mice.
This week, exactly two hundred years ago, King Richald had cast the enormous protective spell over his entire country. No living thing had entered Peromia since then, and it had stayed safe from all outside evils. Thus, it was to be a tremendous celebration, especially here in the heart of the kingdom.
There was a lot to be done in preparation.
Soon they arrived at the palace gates. The tall, ornate doors stood flung wide open, guardsmice in gleaming armor on either side. There was a pause, then the party was let in with cheerful greetings.
Lance and Niegra stared all around them once inside the outer court. It was so different from Castle Terraqua, where they had grown up.
Everything was so elegant and bright, in contrast to the gray, thick walls of the fortress at the sea. The verdant hedges, pale walls, and blue with gold flags went together like a picture-perfect painting. The palace, which had looked so small from down the river, seemed vast now, its slender towers standing tall as if trying to block out the sky.
The outer courtyard, where Lance and Niegra were passing through now, was filled with mice and unicorns of all ages and ranks, going about their business, though a few paused to greet the newcomers warmly. Lance tapped Niegra excitedly on the head to point out a knight on griffinback, who had just landed and was stretching stiffly as he dismounted. She had always wanted to be one of those griffin-riding warriors.
Lance was so entranced with the castle that she hardly knew what else went on around her, until she heard the deep voice of Baron Anglo.
“And you, Lance and Niegra, may help with decorations after lunch.”
Lance only nodded. The centaur towered over even the tallest bucks, and his golden fur and gray-streaked beard practically thundered his authority. He had been intimidating to Lance when she was a mouseling, but she had learned over the seasons that her guardian’s bark truly was worse than his bite.
Not that he didn’t bite.
The day was mostly a blur for Lance. There was so much to take in, all the new sights, sounds, and smells overloaded her senses and she was exhausted by suppertime. She and Niegra had spent the afternoon helping to put finishing touches on banners, putting them up, and running a lot of errands. It had been quickly discovered how useful a pegasus was in sending quick messages and buying more paint.
After they had eaten, the girls were excused to have some time to themselves. They had only seen some of the lower levels of the palace so far, but Lance was ready to go outside, rather than explore the rest of the indoors. She and Niegra slipped out into the inner courtyard, where there was a lovely, peaceful garden.
The sun, low in the sky, turned the tops of the towers and walls golden, but did not reach into the garden. The air here was cooling quickly, and somewhere in the bushes Lance could hear the faint tinkling of a fountain.
“Are we even supposed to be in here?” worried Niegra aloud, pulling her wings onto her back as one brushed the hollyhocks alongside the pebbled path.
Lance shrugged, her paws fidgeting with the end of her braid as they usually did when otherwise unemployed. “Well, if we aren’t, someone’ll soon come and tell us.”
Her pegasus friend heaved a sigh. “And this is how we usually end up in trouble.”
“Oh, chill out, Nieg,” replied Lance cheerfully, flopping casually onto a wooden bench. “If they really didn’t want anyone in here, they would have told us to stay out.”
Honestly, now that Niegra had brought it up, she felt a bit of doubt, and figured they probably would end up getting told off and kicked out of the garden, but she didn’t care. She was going to enjoy it while she could, and she certainly wasn’t going to admit her doubts.
Lance rested her paws behind her head, then sat up swiftly as the peaceful silence of the garden was interrupted by the crashing noise of a bush being crushed.
Whirling around in surprise, she saw the hedge several tailslengths behind the bench moving as if it was alive. It made a few squeaking and pained grunting noises, then out rolled a mouse. Lance only watched, unblinking, as the boy sat up, brushing leaves out of his fur and clothes. Spitting a strand of spiderweb from his mouth, his eyes met hers and he froze.
Lance had never seen eyes that matched the blue of the sky so perfectly. They stood out brightly against the white of his chin and throat, and his red-brown fur, the shade of autumn leaves.
He stood hastily, and Lance guessed he was perhaps a year or two younger than her… fourteen or thirteen.
“Sorry, did I startle you?” He continued to brush the bush-bits off himself, reaching inside his hood to pull out a pawful of twigs.
It took Lance’s brain a minute to register that he was asking her. “Oh, n-no,” she stammered, stumbling over her words in a hurry to get them out. “Not at all.”
“I don’t know, you looked pretty startled to me.” The boy was grinning at her.
“I wasn’t,” Lance replied, more sharply than she meant to.
“Fine, sorry.” The other mouse shrugged apologetically, but his smile still lingered. “I didn’t mean to scare anyone, anyway. I just sorta… fell. Out of a tree.”
Lance stared back, not sure how one was supposed to answer that. “Oh.”
Who was this boy, anyway? He didn’t look like a servant, with his blue and gold tunic that looked like it had been nice and neat before he went tree climbing, so he must be a squire. Lance could hardly imagine what a squiremouse would be doing in the royal garden, climbing trees, but it entered her mind briefly that she would be doing the same if she was in his place. She hadn’t seen him before though, and she had seen plenty of knights, squires, and pages alike throughout the day.
Lance’s ears grew warm as she realized he had been staring at her as she studied him back. He didn’t seem to mind, however, and sat down comfortably on the opposite end of the bench from her.
“What’re you reading?” He cocked his head curiously to look at Niegra’s book, which Lance hadn’t noticed she had brought until he pointed it out.
The pegasus looked up from the volume that floated in front of her face. “Hmm?”
“The Reign of King Richald,” read the boy. “Ooh, that’s a fun one.”
“It’s Lance’s favorite,” Niegra mentioned, before ducking back into the pages.
Lance thought she saw a hint of a smile on her friend’s face as she hid, but she frowned slightly.
“You know-” The boy’s face brightened, then he stopped himself.
“Hm?” Lance grunted questioningly after a minute of silence.
“Oh, never mind.” He shrugged off whatever he had been about to say. “What’re you doing out here?” He cocked his ears. They looked a bit large for his age, and they were soft and pink as a mouseling’s.
“Just relaxing,” was Lance’s reply. “I’m here from Terraqua.”
The other mouse nodded. “Yeah, I saw you earlier.”
“Oh.” Lance mentally slapped herself for overusing this reply. It was not very good for carrying on a conversation.
“By the way, I’m… you can call me Hal,” he continued, a hint of hesitation in his voice.
“I’m Lance.” Lance had to put some effort into her smile, but she was sure it probably looked horribly fake.
Hal, however, didn’t seem to mind. His smile widened eagerly. “You’ll be here for the whole week, right? The whole festival?”
“Yeah, I think we’re staying a few days after, as well,” Lance answered indifferently.
“Would you like to meet here again, tomorrow?” Hal asked, pulling his legs up onto the bench. “I know you must be tired right now, but if we meet up again, I can show you something. Something really fun.”
“Alright.” Lance decided she might as well. It might be nice to have a new friend at Caer Peromia… someone to show her around a bit more, and someone who seemed more adventurous than Niegra. Maybe he could even turn out to be a permanent friend.
And anyway, looking into his sky-blue eyes, vivid with hope and eager excitedness, she couldn’t bring herself to say no.
“Sweet potatoes!” Satisfied with her answer, the boy slid his legs back down to the ground and stood. “I’ll leave you for now, then.” He grinned. “Can’t wait for tomorrow! Goodnight, Lance!” He gave a small, graceful bow, and bounded off down the path, his short red cloak billowing behind him.
Lance watched Hal’s retreating back until he disappeared around a bend. Despite how young he looked, there was something about him that suggested he was older than she had initially assumed. Perhaps it was his polite, cheerful manner. He seemed to have an aura of positivity all about him. He was nothing like Dyln, Baron Anglo’s obnoxious and somewhat rude son.
“Well?” Niegra’s soft voice cut into her rambling thoughts.
“Well what?” Lance looked over at her friend, who had closed the book and was watching her with a hint of a grin.
“Looks like you’ve got yourself a date.” Niegra broke into laughter.
Lance scowled and sat up. “He’s anything BUT that, you over-eager shipper!” Grabbing a twig off the ground, she threw it. It landed harmlessly in Niegra’s hair. More sticks followed, but Lance couldn’t help laughing, a bit grimly.
“You are ridiculous, Niegra Starflank.” She shook her head, flopping back onto the bench as if suddenly remembering she was tired.
“Like I’d ever be interested in a boy, for goodness’ sake.”
> < > <
“Hal, this is nothing to laugh about,” the unicorn snorted gruffly, stopping his pacing in front of the bed. “Your father is much too busy right now to be bothered with your troublemaking. You must stop running away.”
Hal’s smile faded as he flopped back onto his bed.
“But I didn’t even do anything today!” he protested. “I didn’t even go outside of the garden! And you don’t have to watch me every second of the day, Morthorn… I’m fifteen! I can take care of myself. In my own home, no less.”
“We are not going to spend all night going over this for the millionth time, Hal.” The unicorn shook his head in frustration, his short beard waggling. “I have a promise to keep, and a job to do, and it is to keep you safe and under my guard… and part of that is keeping you out of trouble.”
Hal opened his mouth, but closed again without a sound at a stern look from Morthorn.
“You need to learn to be more responsible, Hal. You’re going to need it someday… Need I remind you, you are the only prince Peromia has. You’re going to be king eventually, and you’re going to have to grow up.”
Hal bit back his reply, only nodding.
I can’t grow up if my father never lets me do something on my own, he had been about to say, but decided better against it. He didn’t want this lecture to go on longer than it had already. He had learned that the hard way, long before.
“I’ll try and do better tomorrow,” he said quietly.
“Good boy.” Morthorn nodded, then his expression softened a little. “Better go to bed now. Goodnight, Hal.” He reached down, nuzzling the mouse’s shoulder with his head.
Hal hugged his friend’s warm neck, running his fingers through the neatly trimmed golden mane. “Goodnight, Morthorn.”
As Hal lay in bed, the blankets pulled cozily up to his chin, his thoughts returned to the girl he had met just a few hours before.
There were many squires and pages, servants and soldiers he had befriended throughout his young lifetime in Caer Peromia. But none of them were quite what he was looking for.
He wanted someone who loved him and enjoyed his company, but someone who would do so out of pure friendship.
Someone who would treat him equally, rather than be nice to him simply because he was the prince.
Someone who would give him a chance to just be a normal boy sometimes, to forget all the responsibilities of being royalty for just a little while.
And though he had only met this girl, Lance, for a few brief minutes, he couldn’t help feeling like she might be that friend.
True, he didn’t know her yet, but if she liked the same kind of stories he did, she had potential.
Best of all, she had no idea who he really was. She probably assumed he was a squire or something… she had never seen the prince before, and the hood he was wearing had perhaps added a bit of mystery to his appearance.
Hal gave a quiet sigh of satisfaction, snuggling more comfortably into his bed. He heard Morthorn shift just outside, in his usual spot by the door.
How was he to sneak away from his bodyguard for long enough to meet Lance in the courtyard tomorrow?
He closed his eyes.
He would plan that out in the morning.
Chapter 2 - SpellbaneEdit
Hal did not appear the next day.
“He probably just got busy with something and couldn’t make it,” Niegra assured Lance. “We’ll try again tomorrow.”
So they did. The next evening, after dinner, the girls sat in the cool of the garden… but this time, under the cover of the eaves. The weather had decided to take a wet, drippy turn that morning, and the sky was gray all day.
Lance pulled her cloak around her as she watched the drizzle. “Well, maybe not today. We should go do something else.”
She was a little disappointed, she had to admit. Hal seemed like a nice boy, but she would rather be inside reading than getting cold out here in the dreary rain, waiting for a friend-to-be that would never show up.
She stood, carefully avoiding the drips from the roof.
Just then, the crunch of running boots sounded, and around the corner came Hal. He came to a sudden stop in front of her, catching his breath.
“Sorry I didn’t come yesterday,” he began hurriedly, straightening his red hood which had almost flown off his head in his dash through the rain. “I got held up.”
“No problem.” Lance shrugged, giving him a smile.
“It’s too bad it’s raining today,” sighed the boy, staring up at the gray clouds. “Kind of ruined my plans.” He paused. “Well, what would you like to do?”
“Something inside?” Niegra said hopefully, shaking a drip off her right wing.
“She wants to see the library,” chuckled Lance. “Don’t you, Nieg?” She poked her friend playfully in the side.
“Oh, well, I would love to, but, well, whatever you want to do,” Niegra stammered, rolling her eyes.
Hal’s face lit up. “I know just what we should do!” He flung a paw in the air enthusiastically. There was silence as he grinned at the girls.
“What?” Lance said impatiently at last.
Hal only laughed. “Follow me.”
They did so. The mysterious boy led them into the castle, through a servants’ entrance that was deserted for the time being.
Lance frowned in perplexion as they dodged behind corners to avoid people and tip-pawed quietly along the halls.
“Are we supposed to be in here?” whispered Niegra, voicing Lance’s thought before she could even open her mouth.
“Trust me, we’re fine.” Hal gave a quiet, confident laugh.
Lance shrugged, raising an eyebrow. At least if they got caught, it wouldn’t be her fault this time.
But they didn’t.
Hal certainly knew his way around the palace, that much was obvious. He stopped them in front of a tapestry in the corridor leading to what looked like an important room, despite there being no guards around it.
He turned to them. “Promise not to tell anyone about this?”
“Promise,” Lance and Niegra nodded sincerely, Lance far more eagerly than Niegra.
“Awesome.” With a dramatic flourish, Hal pushed the tapestry aside. Putting his paw in a crack between the wall stones that was hidden in shadow, he pulled on it with all his weight.
Lance’s mouth fell open as, slowly, a section of the wall swung out on hidden hinges.
Niegra actually gasped aloud.
“I’ll have a light in just a second,” Hal’s voice came through the darkness as he pulled the door closed behind them. There was the sparks of flint against steel, and soon he had a torch.
“I keep a supply of torches in here,” he explained, though with the stack of torches in the corner, he didn’t need to. He touched his flame to other torches that were set along the walls, until the room was sufficiently lit.
“There ARE secret rooms and passages in Caer Peromia!” marveled Niegra, her voice a squeaky whisper with excitement.
“Cool, huh?” Hal sat on a blanket on the floor, grinning hugely. “It’s kinda my special secret place. One of them, anyway.”
“Are there others?” Lance asked, her mind racing through the possibilities of where the hidden tunnels could be and where they could lead.
“Oh yeah,” the boy raised an eyebrow enigmatically. “But this is the only one I’m showing you.”
Niegra had apparently been thinking more about the practical function of the room architecturally than just the pure awesomeness.
“I’ll bet this was built in as a hiding place for the royal family, in an emergency,” she said thoughtfully, still studying the door. “It’s even got a place to bar it, so it can’t be opened from outside. No one could ever get in here.”
Lance put one paw on the cold stones of the wall, wondering if this room had ever actually been used for that purpose… sometime before the spell, of course. Suddenly she felt like she was intruding on ancient royal secrets.
“So… is there anything else?” she said hesitantly. “In here, I mean?”
“Like, another passage?” Hal shook his head. “No, not that I’ve found.”
“You’d think they’d want to have an escape tunnel,” continued Niegra, catching on to Lance’s idea. “If I had to hide in a secret room in the castle, I’d want a way of getting out without risking my life going out through the rest of the building… it could be overrun by enemies.”
“Where is this, anyway, in relation to the rest of the castle?” Lance was searching the walls now, curious to find anything that looked like it could be a second door.
Hal cocked one ear thoughtfully. “Right about in the middle of the inner ward. The royal suites are right next door.”
“Well, I suppose that’s a good place,” nodded Niegra, joining Lance in looking over the stones eagerly. “But as cool as this is, I don’t feel quite right about coming in here,” she added, pausing to glance at the door. “We don’t have permission, do we?”
“Party pooper,” muttered Lance under her breath, nudging her friend.
Niegra snorted indignantly, but Hal cut in before she could reply.
“Um, actually, you do have permission.” He smiled, but Lance couldn’t help thinking he appeared to be hiding something. “No need to worry.”
Lance raised her eyebrows at Niegra, but the pegasus still looked a bit doubtful.
“I’m afraid you won’t find much,” said Hal as he watched Lance switch to searching the floor. “I’ve gone over this whole room, several times. Checked every crack in the stonework.”
His eyebrows took to the sky as Lance, with a grunt, set her fingers in a crack between the floor stones and pulled up a trap door.
“Except for that one, apparently,” he corrected.
As Lance set the door down so it wouldn’t fall back over the hole, Hal brought his torch closer to inspect it. It was a cold, black pit, just big enough for a horse to squeeze in perhaps.
Lance could see the first two steps, the rest of the stairs fading into the pitch blackness. The two mice looked up at each other, eyes wide.
“Um, no.” Niegra spoke before either of them could. “I’m not going down there.”
She didn’t wait to be asked why not. “It looks horribly cramped, and creepy, and there are probably a bajillion species of spiders that have never even been discovered. Even this room is a bit much… I’m starting to feel a little claustrophobic.”
“Nobody said you had to come, Niegra,” sighed Lance, rolling her eyes.
“And nobody said we’re going down there, anyway,” added Hal with a grin, though it was obvious by the eager shine in his eyes that he was going, whether anyone was coming with him or not.
“You can stay up here, Niegra,” he continued in a kinder tone than Lance had. “We might need backup.” He laughed.
Niegra was alright with that, and both mice descended the steps carefully.
The tunnel was damp and musty, fungus growing up the walls in some spots.
Lance had her own torch, having lit it from Hal’s. “Caer Peromia is officially ten times cooler than Terraqua.” Her voice echoed along the tunnel ahead. “I’m pretty sure we only have one secret tunnel… and it’s not much of a secret. Pretty much everyone who’s lived there as long as I have knows about it.” She snorted.
“At least everyone knows where to go in an emergency.” Hal laughed. “How did you end up living in Terraqua, anyway?” He turned to her curiously. “Are your parents knights or something?”
“No, I’m just a ward,” Lance replied quietly, watching her paws on the slightly slippery stones. “I don’t know who my parents were.”
“Oh,” was the boy’s reply. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.”
“It’s okay,” she reassured him quickly.
She paused a minute before deciding she might as well tell him. There was no harm in it. “Baron Anglo found me as a baby, in a basket. He never figured out where I had appeared from, but he kept me and raised me as a ward… for some reason. Along with Niegra. Her parents were friends of the Baron, but he took her in when they were killed in a fire.” She stopped.
That was a lot of words to say at one time. Maybe it had been too many.
But Hal was listening, with sympathy on his round, honest face. “I’m sorry. That’s really sad.” His smile was gone.
“It’s fine,” shrugged Lance. “Both of us were only babies, so it’s not really a problem.”
“But it’s sad that you’ve never had parents.” Hal switched his torch to carry it in his other paw.
Lance snorted. “From what I’ve heard, parents can be just as annoying as they are wonderful and loving. I don’t think I’m missing out on too much, with Niegra as my best friend.”
Hal’s smile returned. “True, but the good outweighs the bad by far.”
Lance only nodded, and they walked on in silence for a while, the only sound that of Hal’s boots tapping softly on the perfectly fitted stones. The tunnel was curving slowly in a downward spiral. Lance couldn’t figure out the logic in an escape tunnel going down, however. This would only take them deep below the island, and perhaps even under the river.
“Lance! There’s a door here. You walked right past it.”
Lost in her wondering, she had indeed gone on past the door hidden by shadows, only halting at the sound of Hal’s voice.
It was a thick, mousen door, made of oak that was so ancient it was a wonder there was any of it left. It was only held together by the metal reinforcements.
“I wonder who put this in.” Hal poked the rotting wood, letting it crumble to the floor.
“I doubt that it’s from the time the castle was built,” said Lance. “But maybe a few generations after Queen Faenia.”
Hal nodded. “Maybe this is the actual escape route, and the rest of the tunnel is just a decoy to confuse people.”
Lance shrugged, scratching at the rusted iron door pieces with one claw. “I’d like to keep exploring the rest of the tunnel.”
“You can go on ahead,” said Hal, pushing the door experimentally. It didn’t budge. “I’m going to see if I can get this door open.”
“I’ll yell if I find anything,” Lance added, continuing on down the tunnel.
She shivered, wrapping her cloak tighter around herself. It felt colder the farther down she got. And wetter. She had to step carefully on the pale algae that covered the stones in some patches. She must be close to being under the river.
Lance glanced up at the ceiling… it looked stable enough. Despite how ancient most of the castle was, it was well-built and there were no cracks or uneven stones to make her nervous. The mason mice of old sure knew what they were doing.
But apparently I don’t, she thought briefly as, not watching her feet, she suddenly stepped off a slippery edge. She landed hard on her side, her paws automatically springing out to keep her head from hitting the floor. This was successful, but unfortunately meant she had to drop her torch, which landed in a puddle and died with a sizzle.
“Ugh.” Lance groaned aloud as she sat up, her hip bruised and half her skirt wet from the puddle she sat in. She stood carefully, groping for the wall in the pitch black.
Now she was even colder. That puddle was nearly freezing, she was sure.
She rubbed her leg, which felt like it had been scraped a bit, but it likely wasn’t bleeding. Just hurting like heck.
“Stupid algae,” she muttered, reaching around in the water until she found her torch.
“Stupid puddle.” The wet torch was useless, of course.
“Stupid torch.” She dropped it back into the puddle.
What now? Stumble all the way back up the dumb slippery tunnel? That was all she could do, really, until she came within hearing range of Hal.
Heaving a sigh, Lance felt around for the steps she had fallen down.
She wrinkled her nose. This place stunk in more ways than one. Despite the pungent odor, she found herself sniffing it more, trying to connect it to a description.
It was like rotted vegetation, with a bit of a mineral scent and some very old, unwashed laundry that had sat in a musty attic for far too long. And something else she couldn’t place. It didn’t smell like something one would usually find in a tunnel under a castle.
She backed up a few steps, cautiously keeping her paws on the wall as a guide. Then the wall was gone, replaced by cold, open air.
The smell was stronger, and her paw echoed more freely when she stomped it experimentally. It seemed like she was in a largish room. Her eyes, straining through the heavy blackness, caught a faint, barely perceptible light somewhere ahead.
Lance stepped forward slowly, feeling the floor in front her before actually moving. It was a purple glow that pierced the darkness in front of her, but she couldn’t see the source.
Was it just her imagination, or was it getting brighter as she moved nearer? A few more steps and she was pretty sure the light was increasing. So was the smell.
She stopped as her paw struck something metallic and very solid. The light was right in front of her now. It shone a little brighter, and Lance saw a cross shape. Or was it a sword? Whatever it was, the light was welcome. It might turn bright enough to find her way out of this cave.
Lance reached a paw out of her cloak - her fingers were freezing, it was so cold down here - and took ahold of the glowing object.
The result was a blur in her mind at the time, but it would remain burned into her memory for the rest of her life.
First there was a nearly blinding flash of pale violet light as her paw came in contact with the grip of the sword hilt. With a yelp, she pulled back, but for reason that she never knew, she kept her grasp on the weapon.
Almost as quickly as it had flared up, the light died down to a glow that illuminated the cavern.
Lance stared in shock at the bright sword, the carved room around her, and the cauldron at her feet.
She barely had time to wonder what had happened when everything began to shake.
The large pot rattled wildly, a liquid sloshing inside it. The floor and ceiling rumbled from side to side, knocking the girl over on her already bruised hip.
Automatically, she flung her arms over her head, dropping the sword.
But no rocks fell on her.
The earthquake was gone.
Lance sat in silence a few seconds, until she was sure it was over. Only then did she remember to breathe again. But it was a shaky, gasping breath.
She stared at the sword, still lighting up the room from its position on the floor.
The pot held some sort of potion, that was obvious. A very old, unstable alchemic potion.
The castle had nearly fallen down on top of her. She was sure it must have been felt above ground.
Lance’s heart pounded like a woodpecker drilling a tree. Her stomach felt as if its contents had been tossed like a salad and mixed with her least favorite dressing.
An image flashed through her mind of graceful Caer Peromia, the ancient home of all the royal Peromian line, crumbling to blocks and dust as the island collapsed beneath it.
Down on top of the girl who had caused it. Crushing her.
Destroying the center of her country.
Decimating all who lived inside it.
Gasping for breath, she staggered to her feet, shaking all over.
It’s perfectly fine, she told herself hotly. Stop imagining things.
It didn’t happen, and it’s not going to.
None of this is as bad as it seems.
But she knew she was only lying to herself.
“Lance!” Hal came dashing into the cave, his eyes huge and wide with terror. “You’re alright! Are you alright?” He held his torch aloft, his paw shaking and the flame sputtering.
Lance whirled around to face him, standing in front of the sword. “Y-yes! I’m fine… fine,” she stammered, not certain she was actually saying words.
“You felt that, didn’t you?” Hal’s soft, normally cheerful ears were flat against his head and his whiskers quivered.
Lance nodded, and Hal took a shaky breath.
“Of course you did. What the heck was that? I’m glad you’re okay, I… I was so scared.”
He scanned the room as if noticing it for the first time, and Lance took the opportunity to sweep the sword up under her cloak. She didn’t want to be questioned.
“We… we should get out of here,” she managed to squeak.
Hal nodded vigorously. “Definitely.”
With no further discussion, they raced up the slippery tunnels as fast as they could go, Hal leading the way with his dying torch.
Neither mouse stopped until Lance had dropped the trapdoor back down with a thud, and it looked like just another floor stone once more. Then their legs collapsed beneath them and they sat in the cold dark room, huffing and puffing and gasping for air.
“What… what happened?” squeaked Niegra, her wings quivering.
Lance gulped in a breath, trying to slow her pounding heart.
“I-I don’t know,” Hal answered before she could. “We… must have disturbed… something.”
“Is the castle… in danger?” Niegra looked ready to bolt.
Hal shook his head cluelessly, his chest still heaving. He looked at Lance.
“No.” Lance frowned. “It was just an earthquake.”
“Really?” Niegra was not convinced one bit. “I don’t think-”
“I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about.” Lance cut her off. “But we- how long have we been down there?”
“Half an hour, perhaps?” Niegra replied, her voice shaking. “I-I’m not sure…”
“We should leave, then.” Lance pulled herself to her feet, clenching her teeth and trying to stop her legs from trembling.
Hal gulped and nodded in agreement.
Making sure the secret door stayed hidden, the trio scurried out of the palace the way they had come in - unseen.
“See you… tomorrow?” Hal said hopefully once they were in the courtyard.
“Maybe,” was Lance’s reply. “I just… I’m just pretty shaken up right now. We need to get back to Baron Anglo before he starts wondering where we are.”
Hal nodded. “I understand. That earthquake scared me too.”
They were silent for a moment, then went their separate ways with quiet goodnights.
Lance was alone in the room she and Niegra were sharing, that had been provided by Caer Peromia. Her friend was out for the moment, probably finding a book.
Only then did she dare to unwrap the sword from her cloak. She sat on the bed to study it.
It was a paw-and-a-half, a perfect fit obviously forged for a mouse. The silvery crosspiece and graceful, flawless blade were simply shaped, but decorated in ornate designs. The binding on the grip was old, cracking cloth, but that could easily be replaced. The pommel was set with a round purple gem on either side.
But it was the lettering along the blood channel that nearly made her heart stop.
It was swooping, curling Ancient Parominian script, but Lance had studied enough to recognize the word.
It was one she had read of more times than she could count.
One she had dreamed of.
One that brought her heart to her throat for the second time that day.
She stared at the name. One thought echoed through her shocked mind.
What have I done?
Chapter 3 - Break the GlassEdit