Guided Tour

by Chris O'kane

Rickkter moved swiftly down the hallway. Anyone he passed was ignored and any greeting earned a grunt and a wave in return. He was irritated at having to stop his work at a most critical point because of one broken part. Traveling the long, cold, drafty hallways of the Keep didn't improve his mood much. His journey brought him to a door guarded by two soldiers dressed in chain mail armor and carrying long swords. On the door was carved a crossed axe and longbow.

"This isn't Misha's apartment," Rickkter said stating the obvious. "What is this place?" he asked a guard.

"If you don't know we're not telling you," the woman answered.

The raccoon glowered at the two women but made no effort to work his way past. He started to say something but the door opened and a person walked out. Rickkter recognized the prairie dog morph immediately. "Craig! It's good to see you."

The prairie dog looked at the raccoon morph. "Rickkter, what are you doing here?"

"I was looking for Misha, but I wound up here instead."

Craig chuckled. "The Keep has a weird way of doing things. What do you want with our illustrious leader?"

"I need him to fix something," the raccoon answered.

"Fix what?" Craig asked.

"I have something that needs regulating," the raccoon answered enigmatically.

"Huh? What does that mean?" the rodent asked. "Never mind I guess that's as close to an answer as I'm going to get. Come on in, he's wandering around somewhere."

With a nod to the guards Craig led Rickkter through the door. The room on the other side was barely ten feet wide and devoid of any furniture or decorations. Aside from another door Rickkter noticed several arrow slits in the walls and a hole in the ceiling. "Charming little anteroom," he commented.

"It is," Craig answered, nodding his head. "It's also the only entrance to Long House."

"Long House?" Rickkter asked as Craig opened the other door and stepped through.

"This is Long Hall," Craig said and waved his arms around. The great hall they were standing in was spectacular. Great stained glass windows illuminated the hall and cast colored shadows across the inlaid tile floor. Great, tapestries and paintings covered the walls above numerous doors.

"Great Maker! This is a beautiful hall. Who created it?"

The prairie dog shrugged. "Misha and Matthias found it, just like you see it."

"Amazing!" Rickkter said looking around. "Where do all the doors lead to?"

Craig walked over to one and opened it to reveal a large dining room complete with tables, chairs, silverware, and dishes. "And there's a big kitchen as well, with a complete pantry, even a cold room for storing meat," he exclaimed. "And we've two more just like it."

"Whose army are you expecting to feed?" the raccoon asked.

"I don't know, although we were thinking of inviting the city of Seaside over for lunch," a voice said behind them.

Turning around they found Misha standing there. He was wearing only a pair of blue shorts and holding a mug in one hand and a sandwich in the other. "To what do we owe the honor of this visit?" the fox asked.

"I was hoping you could fix something for me."

"Sure. Let's head to my workshop and see what we can do," the fox answered between bites. "Craig, I'll see the raccoon around, why don't you go back to work."

"All right boss," the prairie dog smiled and waved goodbye as he walked off leaving the raccoon and the fox alone in the hall.

"You look very relaxed. I thought you were training Matthias to be a Long Scout?" the raccoon asked.

"Caroline is handling things today," the fox said stretching. "Thomas had me in a meeting for four hours yesterday, and there was ten hours before that examining Omega. I didn't get to sleep till two a.m. this morning. As a matter of fact I just woke up."

"The stallion gave you a lot of grief about bringing Omega into the Keep?"

The fox nodded, "That's an understatement. He wanted to know everything about Omega and the Amber order. He also wanted to know more about Bolva. A lot more about Bolva."

The raccoon nodded. "I can understand that. I want to know more about that mage too. I have the feeling we'll be seeing him again."

Misha looked into his mug of coffee and was silent for a moment. "Omega admitted to me that Bolva is most likely still alive."

"That's not an unexpected piece of news. Still the idea of meeting that automaton again does not fill me with joy," was the raccoons reply. "Have you uncovered anything else about Bolva and the order?"

"Nope, the order was very thorough about hiding its secrets. On a good note Omega is going to be allowed to stay but Wessex, Magus, Pascal, Bryan Derkson and many others are going to be examining him for a long time."

"No surprise there. Has he remembered more about the Amber order?" Rickkter asked.

"No not yet. Wessex thinks it might be months or years before he remembers something useful about the order. Jon talked with him for hours about what he could remember. Most of it was everyday stuff about the empire and the mages themselves." Misha shrugged and sipped at his coffee. "He gave us a great recipe for ibex soup but nothing about the order's magic."

"The orders secrets have been hidden for over a thousand years. It's going to take a long time to uncover them." The raccoon waved his arms around. "This is some place you have here Misha," Rickkter said, changing the subject. "The one entrance is a stone door a foot thick and protected by arrow slits and murder holes. This whole hall is one large killing zone. Those balcony's make a perfect place for a small group of defenders to rain death down on anyone who gets past the entrance. And the large open area underneath them means there's no cover for an invader to hide behind."

"So I've noticed," Misha replied.

"What are behind the other doors?"

Misha opened a door and beckoned the raccoon through. Curious, Rickkter walked in and found himself in an armory. Racks and shelves filled the large room. "Oh, very nice!" the raccoon commented.

"It's fully stocked with any weapon or armor we could need. All our personal weapons are here too. Even this fine weapon," Misha said and patted something that lay on a top shelf. It was Whisper, Misha's axe.

"Your great axe here?" the warrior mage said, surprised. "Just sitting on a shelf with no protection. Why not under lock and key at least?"

Misha chuckled, and patted the axe. "Whisper protects itself."

The raccoon nodded solemnly. "I can imagine what would happen to someone stupid enough to try and take it." He looked around at the racks and shelves. "This is quite an armory you put together."

The scout shook his head. "We had nothing to do with it, the keep did it herself. Besides Whisper there are one hundred pikes, a hundred long swords, fifty short swords, forty crossbows, eighty bows, both long and short, and countless arrows, knives and darts. Any weapon or armor used by a soldier at the keep is here. Plus there's a whole assortment of strange and unusual weapons most of which we can't identify." Misha walked over to a different rack and picked up a weapon. It was a sword, but the blade was curved at the end like a sickle.

"A khopesh sword?" Rickkter said surprised. He was even more surprised when he realized that it was made entirely of bronze. "Where did you get that?"

Misha chuckled and then shrugged. "It was here when we found the place."

"Must have been taken from some lutin."

The fox shook his head. "Nope. Look for yourself."

Rickkter took the offered weapon and examined it. This was no lutin creation. The wooden handle was darkened with age, and smoothed with long use. "This is ancient, it must predate the Empire."

"There are dozens of others, just as old or strange. It's like some sort of museum," the fox said shaking his head as the raccoon put the khopesh back into its appointed place.

"Whose museum, and why put it here among all these modern weapons?"

"I think it's the Keep herself," Misha explained. "After all, people have been living in this place for as long as can be remembered. Some of them must have left stuff laying around, forgotten. Maybe the Keep collected them all in this room."

"Interesting idea," the raccoon commented. "What about armor?"

"Oh yes. We have armor of every type and size," the scout replied. In short order Misha guided Rickkter to another corner of the room. Armor of all sorts hung on racks and hangers. The vulpine picked up what looked to to be a leather tunic and handed it to the raccoon. The leather was soft and supple, but surprisingly tough. "What creature is this made of? It doesn't feel like cattle leather."

His friend shrugged. "I don't know, but it's as tough as chain mail and only a quarter as heavy. But enough of this. Let me show you the rest of this place, it's fantastic."

A short walk back to the hall brought them to another door. Behind it was a storeroom over forty feet long, filled with countless boxes and barrels of all shapes and sizes. "There are at least four others just like it scattered around the whole complex," Misha explained. "Think of an item you might need in a castle and you'll find it in one of them, including two complete trebuchets, three catapults, and four ballista."

The fox closed the door and pointed across the hall at a different door. "A barracks for forty people," he explained. He opened another door and revealed a set of stairs leading up. A quick trip up the steps and they were standing in a small hall, barely twenty feet across. Misha walked through an open door and into a long, narrow room.

"How long is it?" Rickkter asked peering off into the darkness.

"Over five hundred yards," came the answer.

"An indoor archery range?" the raccoon exclaimed.

"Yup, and next door is a training room large for ten men to practice at the same time. It's fully equipped with training dummies, and wooden weapons. Care to see?"

"No thank you, I'll take your word on it," the warrior mage replied, waving his hand.

"I haven't even shown you the blacksmith shop, the bath, the offices or the library."

"Library?" Rickkter queried.

"A small one. Just some basic books," Misha replied.

The two headed back down to Long Hall and through another of the countless doors and then down a short corridor lined with doors. They walked through one of the doors and Rickkter found himself in Misha's bedroom.

"All the Long Scouts apartments connect only with Long House," Misha commented.

They walked in silence for a while before Rickkter broke the silence. "Something bothers me about all this," he said in a distracted tone of voice.

"What's wrong?"

"This whole complex is self contained. You could close the door and survive without any contact from the outside world," Rickkter said. "Nasoj could overrun the rest of the Keep and you could stay safe and sound in here."

"I've noticed that too," Misha commented. "One thing Rick, the Keep didn't create this place for us. This place is old, very old, even by the standards of the Keep."

"Maybe this is a final stronghold, a place of refuge if the rest of the Keep fell?" the raccoon suggested.

Misha shook his head. "No, it's too small for that. Long House is big, but it's not big enough to hold everyone in the Keep. It's strictly for a small group of soldiers. It was more like a guard house than a refuge."

"If this was a guard house, what was it guarding?" the raccoon asked.

"The oldest of the legends about Metamor Keep is about why it was built. The story goes that Abba himself built it to protect and guard something. Something so powerful that he couldn't allow anyone to find it." Misha explained.

"What could be so powerful that God himself wanted it hidden?"

"I don't know. The legend is very vague on that point," the fox answered. A silence descended in the room.

"Do you think this something is still around here somewhere?" Rickkter asked quietly.

"I hope not. I fervently hope not."

"Thank you Misha for fixing the regulation valve," Rickkter said, pocketing the small device.

"No problem. I hope you enjoyed the tour," Misha replied. The two friends were standing outside the entrance to Long House. Ignoring the presence of Craig and the two guards.

"I did indeed, thank you. Will I see you in The Mule later?" the raccoon answered.

The fox shrugged. "Maybe, I really should look in on Matthias and see how he's doing."

As Misha watched his friend disappear down the hall, Craig came up behind him. "Is he allowed full access to Long House?" the prairie dog asked.

Misha turned and looked at him. "No. He's to be escorted by two people whenever he's in the complex and not with me. Also I'm to be informed immediately whenever he's here."

"Understood," the rodent replied. "What did you tell him about the complex?"

"I left out a few details." Misha chuckled. "I left out a lot of details."

"What about Omega?"

"I told him that Wessex and Magus are examining Omega. I didn't tell him that Thomas restricted the automaton to Long House," Misha answered. "Be sure no one mentions that fact to him."

"Understood Boss. One question Misha. Is Rick your friend or not? I mean first you treat him like a trusted friend, and then you lie to him."

The fox looked at his rodent friend. "Rickkter is my friend, but as long as he has his own agendas, I can't trust him. What happens if his agenda clashes with mine or the Duke's? What will he do?"

"You think you'll ever be able to trust him completely?"

"I hope so, I fervently hope so."