The Chronicles of 'Team B' - Chapter 20 - A Love Forgotten
Most of the group is too hurt to continue after the cook's assault, but the irrepressible Yuri intrepidly rushes back down the stairs alone, in hopes of discovering the captives, and his beloved Svetlana in the lower part of the lair. All seems quiet downstairs - the cook's people seem to have gone somewhere. Yuri takes a right at the intersection near the kitchen, and finds himself in a sizable paved courtyard with a fountain and a wheelbarrow. The water in the fountain squirts out of a stone serpent's head. The cossack follows another wide passageway laid out with lighter-colored cobblestones around an incongruous-looking subterranean park on his right. The passage turns back upon itself, and it is at this point that Yuri hears voices. He hides behind a column, and sees a servitor dressed in silks and a turban, and younger boys in similar dress are escorting a young, richly attired woman and other boys from a chamber to his left. Speaking in Norik, the servitor tells them that the complex is under attack, and that he needs to get them to safety with the others, where he can protect them until the Master arrives. Yuri attempts to follow the while remaining unseen, and sees them turn a corner, approach a set of strong double doors, and get shunted inside another chamber he cannot see, but from which he hears a multitude of voices emanating. A boy catches sight of him peering from around the corner and issues a hue and cry. The door gets shut and apparently barred, and Yuri, perhaps having learned some discretion in his long trek to this place, decides to retreat back upstairs to wait for his comrades to recover before making a final assault. The group rests for several hours - the clock nearby chimes twice, indicating that evening has probably come, if the books are to be believed. Most have been burnt to ash, though a few are simply badly burnt and quite brittle. Augusta discusses the titles she was able to peruse with the rest of the group. Most were in her own Friazin tongue, in Rakhman or in Irii, one in Norik, and one in Garip - which she can't read. The device embossed into the cover - a chess knight - is recognizable, however - it belongs to the Ritterheim Knights - a monastic fighting order. When Augusta mentions this to Alden, a spark of recognition comes across his face - his captor of many years belonged to this order. The recovery will never be complete - the cook's fire burnt too brightly - but there is little time to lose. The entire group descends the stairs, and begins to search the rooms at the bottom. A kitchen with a partially cooked meal is discovered, so the hungry party takes nourishment. There is also a stocked pantry and a textile workshop with some nice silks and headdresses, some finished, some in process of completion. There are also small cells about the size of the dogheads' quarters, but with beds. One turns out to be locked, but Lokan succeeds in getting it open, though nothing different is discovered inside. These are probably the rooms of the kitchen staff or various other servitors. From here, the party proceeds through the still-empty courtyard, past the park, and to a darkened passageway to the left. There are two large doors here, both locked. Lokan manages to open the one to the left, and the party finds itself in a luxurious carpeted bedroom. An unlit chandelier with a rope attached hangs from the ceiling. Yuri pulls it down, and the ceiling panel attached to the chandelier moves, exposing a crack of daylight from above. The sun has not yet set, apparently, but more significant is the fact that in response to the panel being moved, there is a colossal roar, and a column of flame released into the shaft above the crack. The serpent seems to have positioned itself on top of it. Its roaring is furious and desperate, and Yuri is beginning to get the sense that it is a creature of at best low intelligence. Can this be Yaqub? The companions discuss climbing up the shaft, but ultimately decide against it, in view of the danger. They walk back out into the darkened hall, and Lokan, after some sweat, manages to open the other door. Here is a throne room, with a runner leading up to a red throne. On a hunch, the party searches behind the throne, and discovers another shaft behind it. The hardships have taken a toll, and Lokan nearly tumbles down after trying to climb up, but eventually, Yuri manages to make it up the rungs of the shaft. At one point, his head pokes through an illusory grassy turf, and he finds himself staring up the evening sky. Behind him, he hears snorting. Turning, he sees the serpent, apparently facing the wrong direction, and still focused on the other shaft. It is roughly 15 feet long, scaly, with a long neck and tail. Not wanting to engage it along, and still having much in the compound to discover, Yuri decides to go back down into the throne room before he is discovered. The party then explores the park. Fruit trees grow here, and benches line the gravely walk that winds through the grounds, but Augusta catches sight of a reflective surface along the wall in the back, and proceeds to inspect it, along with the others. As they peer into the mirror, the reflection fades into a clear image of a serpent, similar to the one Yuri just saw on top of the hill, flying over a river. This one is crowned, and has a definite malice in its eyes. "I see you!" it roars in Kochmak, "and the hour of your destruction is near!" Shaken, the party continues to explore the rest of the compound. When the lighter corridor turns to the left, the group searches the far wall for more secret passages, but finds nothing. After it turns to skirt past the park, two more doors on the left are opened, and two more bedrooms with some nooks on the far side are discovered. They are carpeted, furnished, and heated, but currently empty. These are the rooms from which Yuri saw servitors extracting the well-dressed woman with the smaller boys. Opposite these room is a series of smaller doors, one of which is locked. Behind them are cells, similar to the ones near the kitchen. After Lokan forces open the door, the room is discovered to have a piece of graffiti in Rakhman script on the wall, though it makes no sense to Augusta. Beyond the cells is a large door leading to a columned hall with a natural-looking pool in the middle. The party decides to leave it for the time being. Now it is decision time. Should they try to force open the door behind which the woman and the servants went, and to fight servants who may be magical adepts? Or should they try to gain entrance by means of a ruse? Much information has been acquired during the evening's exploration of the lair, and a decision is made in favor of the latter. While Lokan envenoms arrows, Yuri wonders whether they can deceive those inside into opening the door for Yaqub. Lokan is sent to fetch Agapia, who stayed behind with Zinovii and Zhitko in the library. When the two return, Agapia strokes one of her ribbons and roars out an order in Kochmak for the door to open. The ruse works. The door is open a crack, and Yuri, along with Lokan and Alden, force their way in. Inside, is a large chamber lined with beds. It is full of women from Vladykino, as well as servants, and a few Norik-looking boys. Yuri scans the room for his Svetlana, and finds her in the crowd of fifty or more. But like the rest, she draws back, fearful of the two wolf-men, and apparently not recognizing her paramour. Yuri throws his arms around her, but she pulls back in fear. Yuri brandishes his spear at the senior-looking servant, who bears a resemblance to the cook, and threatens to kill him unless he reveals what has been done to Svetlana and the others. The servant, who looks but does not smell manly, surrenders, tells the boys to stand down, and allows himself to be bound. He tells Yuri that the women are no longer of Vladykino, but now belong to the Master, who is also his father. The women confirm his claim. He reveals that the water they have been drinking has made them forget their old life, and claims that the condition is irreversible. He further reveals that his name is Nuri, that the cook upstairs was his brother, Hakim, but that he is more favored in his father's eyes. He tries to convince the adventurers that they are on a fool's quest, and that his father will certainly kill them when he imminently returns. Additionally, he says that the serpent atop the hill is Yaqub's 'other wife', and that she, unlike him, cannot take human form and enter the lair. Finally, he says that the two opulent rooms from around the corner are occupied by the first and second concubines and their children (the boys Yuri saw earlier), but that they have been here for some time, and are not natives of Vladykino. Lokan suggests trying to find out whether Yaqub is in fact the Udyn vizier, and Yuri does a masterful job in describing the latter. Several of the women are artistically gifted, and take a little time to produce a sketch of the Master, which almost certainly reveals him to be a different man, though also dressed as a Rakhman. After seizing two keys from Nuri, the party confers about what to do. Should they make a stand when Yaqub returns? Flee? Take hostages, despite the pledge made to Nuri? The quest appears to have come down to this one last decision.
- Another of Yaqub's sons taken captive
- The women of Vladykino and Svetlana discovered
- Yaqub's identity (probably) established