With the puzzle door cleared the adventurers were allowed into a large, dark room that was empty except for a mechanism on the wall and ceiling. A lever on the opposite side would raise or lower the portcullis. The tunnel beyond was large enough for a horse and rider to pass through.
“We should press on and seal everything behind us,” Bookworm grabbed her only remaining supply pack and rifle. She regretted losing her dart gun to the sea after Kasa had worked so hard on a new tranquilizer, but she had lost more in that mad scramble. She was very happy she had not brought her camera now.
Beryl sat up and raised a paw to stop them, “Yang is in no condition to be moved yet. We got to him while his condition was mild, but hypothermia is deadly untreated.”
“Beryl’s correct, we shouldn’t move him far and we don’t have to worry about being tracked,” Wright gestured towards the outdoors where the weather had turned from a miserable sleet to a hurricane of hail ravaging the countryside. The sun would set soon and temperatures would drop even more. “Any trace of our passing is already gone, and no one will be hunting in that.”
“The rest of us should be careful too,” Beryl continued as Yang struggled to drink the warm tea in between coughing fits. “If we push ourselves too hard everyone could still develop pneumonia.”
“Then we should settle in for a light snack,” Bookworm lowered her pack and nodded gratefully for Beryl and Wright’s suggestions. “Who has any food left?”
Consumables were scarce after the week of travel and the attack on the gulf. Bookworm had tea and rations to hand out and Wright used the last of the oatmeal and canned ham. Loki was tired of the familiar meal, wishing he was back home with ‘bannana’s and taters’.
Yang eventually stopped shaking and the teas soothed his throat, but Beryl told him to take it easy for a few days. “Thank you, Beryl.” Yang’s voice was hoarse, but understandable. “I still need to speak with the Father and monks to explain our presence.”
A shadow passed outside and arctic wind gusted through the cave and threatened their fire. Wright and Mariah drew pistols as Avariel lit her horn to investigate the activity. Bookworm followed close behind them as Avariel ventured outside alone. Tepic, feeling they would be moving soon, began to coax Bunny back into his bag.
White flurries fogged the evening sky and Avariels light did little to aid their investigation which could not proceed beyond the shelter of the door. Avariel ventured forth alone ignoring the puck sized hail striking her from the heavens. She was barely visible even five yards away as the fog enveloped her. Avariel turned about searching for the shadow when she heard a soft melody on the wind. A flute solo she couldn’t have been hearing as Tepic was back in the cave behind her.
She knew something was wrong, but her curiosity drew her forth. As the rescuers watched a large creature tackled Avariel and the two disappeared into the fog. Wright cursed and ran into the mist, ignoring the giant hail that prevented anyone else from helping, as he searched for signs of the Professor. In the distance he could hear crashes and see bolts of light flashing.
He raised his arm to shield his eyes as he walked against the heavy winds and ice. Halfway there the battle was over. “Dr. Falcon!” He fired once into the air to let her know where he was.
A bedraggled looking Avariel came running towards him. Her left side seemed to be bleeding silver liquid from several points where the Koudra’s antlers had caught her. Wright led her back to the cave and everyone was relieved as they dried off again. “I didn’t think that thing would be able to lift me! I chased it off again, but I can’t believe it pursued me all the way here!”
“That the one we saw the night we found you?” Wright asked as he got rid of the enemy coat, certain that his duster would be dry by now.
“I think it was. It still had the scar from our first encounter though the others have vanished.” Avariel stomped her hoof in distress while she shook out her mane. “It has chased me for over a week and to top it off it has stolen Master Tepic’s flute, the fiend!”
“My flute’s stolen!?” Tepic shouted as he reached for his bag. He had lost many of his supplies when the sled had been destroyed, but he had been certain the flute survived. He sighed with relief as he found it packed away safely under Bunny. “Cor that scared me, Ms. Avariel.”
“But I heard it!” Avariel insisted, and Wright and the others nodded in agreement. They had all noted the flute emanating from the fog.
“I think it time we seal both doors.” Bookworm spoke with authority this time to prevent argument. “The Brothers may have the answer to what just transpired as well as the threat to the town. Can you move Mr. Moreau?” He nodded to spare his voice. “Good, then let’s break camp.”
They packed camp and changed clothes, most of the companions thought it wise to pack away the enemy coats before entering the cathedral. Beryl inspected Avariel’s wound, but found that it had stopped bleeding some time ago. As they sealed the passage behind them Avariel provided illumination to the dark tunnels ahead. It was a smooth journey but it took several twists and descents.
It wasn’t long before the group smelled food cooking. Their stomachs growled at the aroma and the companions hastened to the source. They arrived at a large door nearly eleven feet tall. The puzzle door was larger, but here the placement was unusual. Despite its large size it opened easily into a simple kitchen. Their intrusion was not appreciated by an elderly nun who reached for a butcher knife.
“Wait, we’re not with the army! We’re New Babbagers seeking asylum.” Bookworm raised her hands showing she meant no harm. The woman lowered the knife but continued to scowl at the group, especially the Moreau. “Perhaps you recognize Mr. Yang?”
“New Babbage? That would explain your lack of sense or manners,” her tone was not complimentary. She turned to Yang with a sneer, “Unless I’m mistaken you are the fisherman that stopped here six years ago. Why have you returned to Wuldram? How did an uninitiate come through that pass?”
“I only showed them the way,” Yang hoarsely whispered. “They managed that and overcame other obstacles on their own merits.”
“Perhaps we should start from the beginning,” Bookworm began to summarize the events of the past month. The spiders arriving just before Christmas, losing contact with Aquila IX, and finally the rescue mission to save Dr. Falcon.
While Book spoke everyone moved inside and waited uncomfortably. Loki and Avariel found a barrel full of white apples that they were prevented from eating. Beryl jumped on a table at one point and was struck with a rolling pin for their trouble. Tepic tried to acquire a few apples, but was caught in the act and required to stand near Bookworm. Even Yang who was clearly ill was not given leave to sit. Only Mariah, who had requested a chair was allowed that comfort. “We arrived in Wuldram Shores only this morning but we had expected a welcome, not a barrage of cannonballs.”
The old nun made no immediate response as she examined them individually. She did not seem impressed with her companions, but spoke to Bookworm with some decorum, “You will want to speak with Father Walstrand. Hopefully your voice can withstand another telling of that, or perhaps you can learn how to paraphrase.”
Bookworm smiled, though her voice was starting to hurt she felt like she had achieved a victory. The company was lead out of the kitchen and along deserted corridors. The hallways were quiet even for a monastery, broken only by Avariel’s hooves and the sound of hail striking the building. Where were the monks, pages, and scholars?
The old nun knocked on a door at the end of a hallway, “Father, we have unexpected visitors.”
“Then inform those pirates that I am in another meeting with Dr. Gammis,” The Father replied distractedly from within. “He is one of them after all.”
Avariel stomped to the locked door infuriated. Strike one had been the denial of apples, strike two was learning Dr. Gammis was working with the invaders, and strike three was because she miscounted and went to three after one. She brushed the nun aside and then kicked the door open with her hind legs.
Father Walstrand turned towards the company’s entrance with a cold stare. He was an ancient grotesque figure covered with liver spots. Missing flesh between his gums and nose on one side of his mouth exposed his teeth . One of his eyes had gone white with blindness and he appeared to be in a wheelchair. He sneered at Avariel, exposing more gum and teeth through his lip gap.
A small bespeckled man sitting opposite of the Father had fallen in his chair. He tried to back away from Dr. Falcon who cornored him. “Dr. Winston Gammis, I presume!”
“Ahh, D-D-Dr. Falcon!” Dr. Gammis stuttered as he stared at her horn fearfully as she closed on him. “I-I wasn’t expecting you…” He paused and corrected himself, “I mean we received your transmissions, and I was going to respond but…” He turned towards Walstrand pleadingly, “Father, help me!”
The Father seemed to debate that possibility for a moment. “No, I believe this is a good start to your penance.”
“W-what?! No!” Dr. Gammis started to breath heavily and perspire, “T-T-Tell them I’m working with the resistance now! Tell them!” At the Fathers continued silence he begged, “For the love of the Builder, tell them!”
Walstrand let an awkward pause continue until Bookworm asked if the doctor was telling the truth. Finally he nodded, “Yes, he has been working with us for several weeks now. It is a good thing he attended services regularly or his visits would have been suspicious. However, it is also true these ‘pirates’ are only here because of his complicity.”