Thursday, 24 March 2011

Assault on the Castle (Part 3): Welcome, Dreamers

Read parts 1 and 2 yet? If not, check them out here, first:

Assault on the Castle (Part 1): The Thief
Assault on the Castle (Part 2): Noir York City

That's how it started.  Three people, two worlds.  Confused, lost and (at least in the case of Shuyke) pretty angry about the whole thing.

The Thief had woken up first, possibly because he'd transferred first.  As his eyes opened, he realised he was in an unfamiliar room and leapt to his feet.  The last he remembered, he'd been in the top room of a tower with a strange fat man who called himself Dexley.  The room he was in now appeared to be carved out of the earth - there were roots and other underground artefacts protruding from the soil walls.  Oddly, the floor was stone flags, leading the Thief to wonder why the constructors hadn't tidied up the walls a bit.  There was no furniture in the room.  In the dim light, emanating from a single spherical globe embedded into the earthen ceiling, the Thief could see a doorway.

On the floor where he had been lay two strangers, apparently asleep - A man dressed in shabby suit jacket, torn trousers and a white shirt with bloodstains on; a girl in tight-fitting trousers, leather jacket with a dark red blouse, open at the top.

Shuyke and Joe awoke together, which was lucky, because it was also just as the Thief was kneeling down beside Shuyke - he claimed later that he was checking to see if she was alive.  Shuyke's hand flew out and grabbed the Thief by the throat.  Her eyes opened, and she glared at the Thief as she shoved him, struggling for breath into one of the walls.  "Who are you, where are we and... what the hell are you wearing?".

Joe came to his senses and sprang up to pull Shuyke away.  "Hey, you can't just go fighting everyone we meet!"

Shuyke turned on Joe, releasing the Thief who collapsed to catch his breath.  "There is no 'we', Joe Finch."

"What, so I was just in the wrong place at the right time?  I thought you helped me out back there."

"Dream on.  You just happened to create the distraction I'd been waiting for.  Taking care of Hector and Mali and leaving Benson wide open like that..." She paused and thought for a bit.  "Perhaps I should thank you.  At least until we find out where that fat Dexley's taken us, you're the only person I know."  Shuyke turned back to the Thief, who had recovered and was watching Shuyke carefully.  "Who are you?"

The Thief squared up and then bowed to Shuyke. "My lady, I assure you I am as confused about this situation as you are.  I was also captured by a Mr. Dexley and woke up here shortly before you.  My name is ..."

But before he could say his name, the door burst open and Dexley wandered in.  "Ahh, gentlemen.. and lady, of course."  He said, tilting his head toward the frustrated-looking Shuyke.  "I see we are all old friends now.  Excellent.  Please follow me."

Joe pulled out a bent cigarette and popped it in his mouth.

"Ah, please refrain from smoking, Mr. Finch." Dexley made a sweeping motion, indicating the ceiling and walls "Underground, you see.  Could be natural gas and all sorts down here."

Joe scowled and shoved the cigarette back in his jacket pocket.

The trio were ushered down thin corridors (walls still soil).  The Thief led the way, directed by Dexley.  Shuyke followed cautiously.  Joe plodded gloomily along behind the group.  A hangover was setting in.

As they walked, Dexley was chatting away as if they'd just popped over for a cup of tea.

"I'm afraid we're not much used to visitors here.  I must apologise for the state of the place.  These corridors are generally left unused - mostly just store-rooms.  I would've put some work into tidying up, but you know how it is.  Always things going on, never a moment to catch one's breath, eh Thief-boy?"  He patted the Thief on the back so hard the Thief flinched.  "Empty store-rooms, as I'm sure you noticed - nothing for you to practice your skills on here, if you please."  There was a slight bitter undertone to Dexley's manner and the Thief felt the need to defend himself.

"I wouldn't dream of..."

"Of course not, my good man, of course not."

"I'm not just a common thief you know, I'm a..."

"Quite right too, old chum.  Ah!  Here we are!" With that, Dexley threw open an unassuming wooden door into a vast decorated chamber.

"... Wow...!"  Gasped Shuyke.

"Shit, yeah, you could say that..." Even Joe seems to wake up from his moping for a second.

The room into which they stepped looked nothing like the dank, earthen corridors from which they'd arrived.  The ceiling flew off into the distance and vast buttresses formed an arcade that spread out before them for two hundred yards or more. Stone steps down from their doorway led to a stream that ran the length of the grand hall and off to the left and right stood fountains spurting water of different colours into the air.

High up above them came a long call.  The slow beating of heavy wings heralded the arrival of an enormous bird, which landed on Dexley's shoulder with a thump.  Dexley grunted under the weight of the huge bird and then chuckled "Ladies and gentlemen; our humble abode."  He grinned broadly "And say 'Hi' to Numbles".

The bird, Numbles, chattered and then took off, swooping low over the stream.

The trio are stunned by the beauty and grandeur of the place and numbly follow Dexley down the steps and along the stream.

"So, Mr. Dexley..." Shuyke was the first to talk.

"Edmond, please!"

"Edmond... Is all this underground, too?"

"Yes indeed.  The surface is no place for grand gestures in Merrimoor.  Not since the sun died."

"Merrimoor?" Shuyke asked, with a confused face.

"What happened to the sun?" Asked the Thief, intrigued.

"All will be revealed, shortly.  Please be patient."

"Patient?!"  It's Joe's turn to be angry "I'm done with being patient!  Tonight, so far, I've been drunk, then I've been scared out of my wits, twice.  I've been shot at.  I've killed at least two people and I've been kidnapped and now I'm very hungover." He grabs Dexley by the collar and leans into his face "I want some damn answers, now!"

The hall was silent for a moment, save the trickle of the stream.  Then a new voice called from an alcove slightly further up "Ho, Edmond, you're back!  I was about to send out a search party."

"Merov! I was just showing our guests the grand hall." Dexley steered towards the voice and Joe's hands seemed to melt off his collar, leaving Joe looking at them, confused.  "Everyone, meet Merovallier Gravenall, our host and an old friend.  Merov, my good man, meet our guests... "  Dexley indicates his three perplexed followers "... The Thief, the Protector and the Damsel."

"Alright, you three, come in and take a seat.  I'm sure you have lots of questions."

The three followed Merov into a side-chamber, which contained a long table and not much else.  Dexley left the quartet to their discussions.

Merov listened carefully as Shuyke and Joe launched a barrage of questions his way.  The Thief (as yet unnamed) sat in silence.

When Shuyke and Joe calmed down a bit, Merov began answering some of their questions.

"On the matter of where you are, that is difficult for me to explain without us being here all night.  To put it shortly, your bodies... " Merov indicates Shuyke and Joe "... are perfectly safe on your respective worlds, and your minds have been brought here to my home in Devlin, on Merrimoor..."  After the expected outburst from Shuyke had subsided, Merov continued.  ".. I am aware that you Earthbound folk have little-to-no knowledge of the dream worlds, but we have precious little time to discuss the details.  As a brief summary; Consider the Earth, in all its splendiferous glory.  Now take all the best bits of the world; the bright colours, sunny days and crisp, starry nights.  This is how the first of the four dream worlds, Starbree is.  Now throw in some magic, some furry animals of varying degrees of animosity and scatter a few unknown ideas and untested laws of physics.  This is how the next dream world is - Merrimoor - where we are now.  For the next dream world, throw in some harsh environments.  A few volcanoes, spewing out liquid hot rock and poisonous gasses wouldn't go amiss here.  This dream world is constantly veering towards chaos.  Unexpected foes are ever present and unknown dangers lurk around every twisted tree trunk; every burning building; Gearden is a dark, chaotic parody of life on Earth.  Finally, take a leap into the black void of all thought.  The very essence of life and death are twisted beyond recognition.  Up becomes down, down becomes around and left becomes a badger with enormous teeth and claws made of twelve-inch carving knives.   These are attributes of the nightmare world, Phalentir.  Utter chaos rules the day.  All these worlds have one major thing in common; they are all inexplicably linked to the one true world; Earth.
"Kendrick.. " Merov indicates the Thief ".. this won't be news to you.  You have my apologies for the way in which you were brought here, but I'm sure you understand our need for secrecy."

Kendrick nodded, solemnly, but remained silent.  Shuyke glanced at him with interest and Joe glared at Merov, resigned to the fact that he wouldn't know what the hell was going on any time soon.

"It's a lot to take in all at once, but we'll have to wait until later to explain it.  For now, you must listen.  The four dreamworlds and Earth have lived in careful balance for centuries, in Earth time; the chaotic nightmare that is Phalentir and the pleasant dreaminess of Starbree and all in between match well with Earth's strict laws of nature and physics and her unruly population.  But someone, or something, is tipping the balance in favour of chaos.
"The three of you have been brought together to help restore the balance of dreamers.  The talent of dreamwalking has been identified in you two Earthbound, and your unique skills will be of great assistance, Kendrick."

At this point, Shuyke had had enough.  "Dreamwalking now?  What the fuck you crazy man?!"

Merov just smiled softly "As I said.  It's a lot to take in at one go.  I will leave you now and return in the morning when we will start your training.  Feel free to wander the grounds as you wish - your accommodation is through the door opposite this one."  And with that, he left, leaving the sound of Shuyke's screaming behind him.  He was met by Dexley at the end of the great hall "The next few days will be... interesting."

"Feisty one, isn't she?  Hah, if I was a couple of decades younger..."

"She still wouldn't be interested. You old rogue."  Merov said, with a grin and they both left.

"Hey, Shuyke, pipe down, eh?  I've got a splitting headache here." This rewarded Joe with a glare that could've melted stone.  "Don't look at me like that, girl.  If it wasn't for your Enzo, or Benson, or whatever the hell his name is, I wouldn't be in this mess."

"Fuck you, Joe.  He's not my Benson." Shuyke got up and left the room, slamming the oak door behind her with a solid thud.

"Leave her..."  Kendrick said, gently.

"I have no intention of following her... finally we can get some peace..." Said Joe, but he knew he didn't mean it.

"Tell me about this Benson guy?"

Joe relayed the story about how he'd come to be in the Castle pub with Shuyke and how Enzo was going to kill him, so he had to get there first, and then how Shuyke had referred to Enzo as Benson, just before blowing his brains out.

"So, you're angry because she killed him before you did?  Sounds like she saved your life."  Kendrick took out a small device from his bag and started polishing it with his cloak.

"No!  I'm angry because..  Well I don't know really.  Shit, who the fuck is Benson anyway?"

"Is it possible that Shuyke had a history with Benson that preceded the Coombe Street Boys?"

"Well I guess so... But I studied the structure of the Coombs before going undercover - I don't remember any mention of a Benson..."

"Whoever he was, you said yourself that he looked like he knew what she was talking about.  You should go to her."

"But you said..."

"You don't have much experience with women, do you Joe?"

Joe found Shuyke down a side corridor.  She was standing facing out over a balcony.  As he approached, he caught sight of the view and it took his breath away.

"Pretty impressive, isn't it?" Shuyke didn't even turn round.

"That's... incredible.  This is all underground?"

"You haven't seen the best bit... Each of the balconies along this corridor has different views.  I mean, completely different.  But equally beautiful."  They stood, looking out over a spectacular vista of rolling hills and lakes.  The cavernous ceiling of the cave was barely visible, far up above and light from an unseen source cast a bright, early morning sheen on the whole thing. "See this one?"  Shuyke pulled Joe over to another balcony.

"What the... how?!" Joe gasped.  They were now looking out from the side of a mountain, on what looked like a vast island.  Spread out below them was a thick jungle forest, and after that, a silvery beach, spread out from left to right.  In the far distance, waves were crashing against a reef.

"Or this one - I think this is my favourite." Shuyke danced over to another balcony, followed with only slightly less enthusiasm by Joe.  "Don't ask me how it's possible... I mean, it's not possible..."

Joe couldn't speak.  Before them was just empty space.  Nothing.  Except a billion, trillion stars.  They were staring at countless galaxies.  The cave walls couldn't be seen - the space seemed to go on infinitely in all directions.

After a while, Shuyke said, sadly "Kinda makes you feel pretty small, doesn't it."  It wasn't really a question.

"Are you alright?  I mean, a lot has happened in the last day..."  Joe fumbled, lamely, for the right words.

"I'm fine."  Shuyke snapped, a bit too fast... and then "No... I... I thought finally killing Benson would make me happy, but I just feel... empty now."

"Who was Benson to you?  I only knew him as Enzo Barianne."  Joe asked, softly.

"He was nothing to me!"  Snapped Shuyke.  After a few minutes of silence; them both staring out into space, Shuyke spoke again "When I was eleven, my mother was killed in front of me, in my our home.  He... he stabbed her in the stomach, and she was screaming and yelling for me to run, but I couldn't move.  She was on the floor, bleeding; guts seeping through her wound and it only seemed to make him horny - he ripped off her skirt and started..." She stopped and Joe thought he heard a quiet sob.  When Shuyke started talking again, she sounded more hardened and matter-of-fact.  "When she was dead, he raped me too, then left before my father got home.  My father killed himself two years later by jumping off a hotel roof.  It was a mercy really; it ended his suffering."

Joe didn't know what to say.  "So that was Benson?"

"Of course it was fucking Benson! Why else would I be telling you this?  I've hunted him since I was thirteen years old.  Or possibly even before then.  I was sent into foster care and the family paid for me to take martial arts lessons.  They were... really good to me, but they couldn't replace my parents.  I think I always resented them for being so nice... I..."

Joe put his arm around Shuyke's shoulders and she sobbed, helplessly against him in silence.

YOU THERE! Want to read part 4 RIGHT NOW?!

Assault on the Castle (Part 4): Confrontation

Last edited... 2011-03-30 22:15

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