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First Impressions

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Their sleep was uneasy though the rain was gentle, not too cold in the mid-summer season. Through the night she muttered now and then in her sleep, thrashing a few times as she battled her night terrors. Ray woke each time, concerned she would hurt him if he attempted to comfort her but also tired and wanting her to be quiet so he could sleep.

Come morning, Ray had the delight of trying to pry Sari out of her warm bedding but at least she didn’t strike in her half-sleep stage. The growling got intense and she was snuggled pretty deep under the blankets, muttering something about it being too cold for satyxis. The sun had only just begun it’s climb so the air was cool after the night’s rain but Ray didn’t think it counted as cold.

“Pretty sure you’ll be fine. Also, remember, that word is taboo now.” Jabbing her in the shoulder a few times with a finger, he tried so hard not to chuckle as she tried to bat his hand away without leaving the blanket.

“Wud’ever… An’ what’s “Taboo” … Pretty sure the word is Tattoo dumbass.” Her head surfaced from under the blankets, the braid mostly undone from her hair so that little curls escaped in a cloud of nightmare-inducing tangles around her face.

“Taboo, means forbidden from being discussed. Meaning we don’t talk about or mention Satyxis so that no one gets the bright idea you might be one.” A few more friendly pokes to the shoulder and he stood to check on the oatmeal he was making for breakfast. A pot of coffee was bubbling along happily and he poured her the first mug. The smell worked and she was up, grudgingly, and getting into her armor. From there, breakfast was eaten in silence, Sari struggling to really wake up and now and then grumbling under her breath about crazy mainlanders and their early morning rituals.

Once their morning chaos was completed, camp packed up and fire extinguished, Ray and Sari headed toward the tower that could almost be seen through the trees. Much of the above-ground building was demolished down to weather-beaten stone and moss covered arches. A large tree had fallen across the remains and taken out much of the surviving entrance so that Ray and Sari had to climb over the rotting wood. Branches and broken stone filled what was left of the tower’s main floor but it was easy for them to find the already uncovered entrance to the basement.

Whoever had come before them had cleared off the entrance leaving a little wall of loose stones and twigs as a defensive barrier. At the bottom of the stairs was a rotted wood door, unlocked and partially opened. There was little light except for what made it over the ruined walls and down the stairs, their elongated shadows stretching into darkness as the pair stood in the open door. As Ray lit a torch their shadows danced and flickered in the living flame, a shudder coursing down his spine as Sari tilted her head at him.

“Well, watch your step but let’s go.”


Their descent into the tower was unnerving in the silence and darkness. Worn steps were cracked and eroded by weather but free of moss so there was less chance of slipping though each footsteps creaked, sound echoing up and down the stairwell.

Eventually they reached the room at the bottom of the stairs to find that it was long and wide enough for four people to walk side by side easily. Marks along the wall and floor showed where furniture had been, once upon a time, and the hint of staining on the floor evidence there used to be a rug. Nature had already begun reclaiming the room with mushrooms growing in the corners and vines had begun to worm their way through the walls and into the floor.

Drawing her dagger, Sari walked carefully to where a large collection of vines went through the floor and stabbed at the stones. “Seems pretty stable. They probably went straight through to whatever is below us.” From where she was crouched, she pointed with her dagger. “Two doors ahead. One on the right, one at the end. Which you want to go through first?”

Ray fished in his pockets for the hastily drawn map he was given and frowned. “Well… I guess we go right? This map is pretty bad, now that I’m here.” He held it out for Sari to look at and she was just as confused, turning it side to side. “See what I mean? Oh well. Let’s go right.”

She hands the map back and heads to the designated door, jiggling the handle to test if it was locked. “Unlocked, stand back in case it’s trapped.” Moving so that her back was to the wall next to the door, she opens it and throws it open, waiting for a trap to go off.

Nothing happens so she sticks her head in to see several rows of shelves going from floor to ceiling. “Clear, probably. Looks like storage of some kind.” Leading the way inside, she and Ray began searching the room for anything useful. It was Ray that figured out the room had been a library when he found the mound of discarded books that were mildewed and weathered beyond repair.

Leaving the supposed library, Sari realized they had a hallway in front of them that they had missed before and the door at the right. Investigating the hallway, though, she noticed a section of floor that was a good inch lower than the rest with dark blood stains and chipped stones where the lip was. Looking up, a section of ceiling matching the shape of the depression was worn and had its own dark stains. “Well that’s fun…” A closer look at the floor leading up to the depression, Sari found where a tripwire used to be, though nothing remained now but holes in the wall.

“Hey Ray… watch your step here.. I don’t see any tripwire left but this may also be activated on weight.” Sari sheathed her dagger and took a few steps back. Crouched down, she tensed and then made a running leap to get over the indented section of the floor. Landing with a roll, she made the move look graceful as she stood again. “That was easy enough. Alright, Mainlander, your turn. Just like boarding a ship. Tuck and roll on that landing.” She smirked and moved so he had room to land, sure he was about to look foolish.

Taking a few more steps back then she did, Ray ran forward and managed the jump though landing heavily on his feet. Only a slight stumble, he stood and looked further down the hallway. “So a door to our left and another down the hall. Shall we go left first? See if it’s another library?”

Actually impressed he managed to land on his feet, Sari grinned and nodded, testing the door to see if it’s locked before opening it. This room had several desks along the walls, shelves in the center though any paper was disintegrated or rotted. A steady drip of water came from a few points on the ceiling and the air was scented with mildew. “Another door through here. Maybe something survived?”

“Doubt it, looks like everything has been either damaged by time or ransacked already.” Carefully opening a few drawers in a desk, Ray jumped as insects skittered from their hiding places. “Or eaten…”

Her boots echo some as she crossed the room to the next door, dagger drawn just to be safe though so far no threats had shown up. The door opened and she almost gagged on the smell of chemical and rot. Covering her face with a sleeve, she shut the door again while coughing. “Dont .. don’t go in there.” coughing harder and backing away, tears pricked in her eyes from the acrid air. “Some kind of lab, the air is acid.”

Ray looked between his coughing companion and the door, curious but not wanting to subject himself to whatever had her choking so badly. “Good to know… Well, there’s nothing here, let’s head to the next door. Supposedly there’s a lower level that no one has made it to.” He held the door open for her, a little concerned as she walked past with another cough. “You alright?”

“Ya… Just stung that’s all.” She used the sleeve of her coat to wipe the tears from her face as she passed him, heading toward the door at the end of the hall. A yelp escaped her as Ray grabbed the back of her coat, almost pulling her to the ground in the process. “THE FUCK?!”

“Spike trap.” He helped right her before pointing at the small holes in the wall and floor. “I just barely saw it before you walked into it.” The explanation helped still her growling but he was sure the glare would last. “Do you know how to disarm it?”

Crouching down to get a better look at the floor and the holes where the spikes would come out, she shrugs. “Not.. really. I think there’s a spot here somewhere that if you step on it they come out, but not sure how to stop it.”

He knelt next to her, pointing out a brick that was slightly higher than the others. “Try pushing that one down?”

Nodding, they both moved back and she used the end of her sheathed dagger to push down the stone. Sure enough, the sound of metal grating on stone pierced the quiet hallway as the spikes slowly revealed themselves. Covered in rust and ages old blood, several of them were stuck half way out, others barely reaching past the wall. “Well.. Good to know they can't reach us… Let’s pass but be careful. That rust can kill you slow.”

The door beyond the trap was unlocked as well, barely on its hinges, and when Sari opened it a wave of mildewed air flew past her. Wrinkling her nose, she stepped into a room dominated by the floor to ceiling bookshelves filled with a long forgotten collection. Ray was suitably impressed as he wandered along the thin aisles, fingers carefully touching a few of the books to see if they could be salvaged. Sari was equally curious but less inclined to touch the findings.

Bored pretty quick, the books all in a language she couldn’t read and most of them barely surviving, Sari found one of the few stable chairs to sit on while she waited for Ray. “Soooo, is this what we came here for? Soggy books?” Leaning back against the wall, she yawned wide. “You woke me up at dawn for paper…”

From several rows down, his voice muffled by the large shelves, Ray chuckled. “I didn’t, there’s supposed to be more here. But if these can be salvaged we’ll be paid more.” Walking out to where he can see her, a brow quirked as he watched her yawn again. Sitting with her legs apart, one arm draped behind the chair she sat on and her coat opened to the waist, he enjoyed the view for a bit. “See if you can find a hidden door or something.”

Another wide yawn in reply, her longer canines barely noticeable, Sari slowly stood and began absently knocking and kicking on the walls. He left her to that and used the thud sounds to keep track of where she was while he went back to cataloguing what books could be moved and which would have to be handled more delicately. They were at it for almost an hour, Sari on her 4th circuit of the room, when her kick made a hollow thud.

“Shit… oops…” A little more muttering from the gunslinger as she knelt to inspect the hole she had inadvertently created. Ray paused, his hand on the cover of a thin book as he waited for her to report in. When she didn’t say anything he called out for her and got a sheepish chuckle in response. That told him enough and he started to carefully store some of the better-preserved leather scrolls into his pack. The extra pay would be nice if these were as old as he thought they were.

“I either found the hidden door Ooooor I broke the wall…” She was already heading his way, a hand scratching the back of her head. “I think the first part. Come look.”

Together they were able to clear away enough rubble from the hole she found that they could make their way through. Beyond was pitch black until Ray pulled the torch through their hole. Neither of them are particularly tall but their heads almost brushed the extremely short ceiling of the long stairwell they faced. The torch light flickered but barely reached down five steps. Picking up a small rock, Sari tossed it and her eyes widened as it continued to clatter down into the darkness.

“That… is a long way down …” No evidence of fear in her voice but she looked over at an equally hesitant Ray. “Guess I lead the way?”

He nodded and waited for her to start down before following suit. No more then two steps were kept between them so that the torch gave her enough light to see without him crowding her. The stairs themselves were short and steep, going down into what felt like the bowels of the world. Sari had lost count how many they had climbed down when the air became heavy with the smell of mold and earth. She slowed down, a hand up to alert Ray to stay put. Dagger in hand and walking in a half-crouch, she went down far enough to leave the torch light.

A moment or two later and she returned, confused but unharmed. “There’s roots all down this hall. We’re at the bottom but … We’re so far down, how are there roots here..”

Ray came with her the last few steps down and held the torch so that he could see the extensive vines criss-crossing the thin hallway. “Ya, this… is not normal. Can you get through without touching any of them?” He moved closer to one of the vines and inspected where it was coming through the wall. Something about it seemed … unnatural, but he couldn’t tell what.

Sari was in the process of removing her heavy coat, holding that and her belt out to Ray. “Hold these. I’ll see if I can make my way down to the other end, check for any traps.” Standing in just the breastplate, shorts, and tall boots, Ray let her see him give a once-over. She tossed a wink before crouching low and half-crawled beneath the vines, stopping now and then to check for pressure plates or trip wires. Ray knelt down to watch her progress, his eyes traveling along the vines as far as he could see.

“Hey… I think there’s a pattern to these.. Sari, Can you try to see if there’s a wire or something with the thicker vines? They look like they make an X pattern.” He carefully moved so the torch light reached her where she was and watched as she snaked and arm up and felt along the vines. “Feel anything?”

“Huh… Ray, I think you’re right. It doesn’t feel like metal but it’s not rope either. Might want to keep low and crawl through. So far no trip wires.” She lowered herself back down to a crouch so he could see her beneath the vines. “Watch your head and you should be good.”

Rolling her coat into a ball around the belt he half stuffed it into his bag to free up a hand. The other hand held the torch that clunked into the ground as he crawled on all fours noticing a few skeletal remains of rats and the like along the edges of the hallway. Nothing was fresh and the dirt looked only disturbed by her passage so he felt confident that no one had beaten them down here. At least, not recently.