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Old 11-11-2019, 08:39 PM   #41
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Preparing for the next step in the infiltration Ringo pulled herself as close to the bottom of the bridge as possible. Unlike under the gate there weren't any bird nests here. There simply wasn't enough room. Footsteps above her meant the time to move was now. Ringo's jaw clenched shut and she took in another haggard breath and did her best to not think about how hard her muscles were screaming at her right now. And this was only the first phase!

Two sets of footsteps above her headed towards the gate confirmed it. The watchmen were cycling out. When those two arrived, two would depart back to the fortress. That would be her time to move. Having traveled the entire length of the bridge Ringo now stood face to face with the sheer stone wall of the fort. Now that she had somewhere to plant her feet she quickly put both the soles of her sandals on the vertical surface. Normally she would have instantly swung backwards but thanks to her contract with the Leviathan, the thin coating of sweat along the bottom of her footwear frozen and stuck fast. It wasn't enough to hold her weight but it was enough to get her arms a bit of a break for what would come next. Deep breaths. Deep breaths. On the other end of the bridge came the distant sound of another pair of footsteps. The time to act was now.

“We got a pool going, you can get in for a quarter of next week's pay.” The watchman stopped outside the door and gave themselves a quick pat down to get rid of any cigarettes or other contraband that might get them in trouble. “Right now odds are three to one they find the girl before nightfall.”

“Three to one? Are you crazy?” The other watchman grabbed the knocker and gave a few heavy sounding tolls on the iron door. “The entire island will be after her. I bet they'll even break out the bloodhounds!”

“Just between you and me,” the man's voice dropped to a mock whisper. “They say Adakai is getting ready for it.”

“The bloke who refuses to wear a shirt?”

“The very same!”

“What the hell is he going to do? Is this girl part fish? Has he ever even hunted a person?”

“Well,” the peephole on the door slid open, then rapidly closed. “Those Village soldiers swear part of their life to their Leviathan, you know. And that thing is just a big sea monster anyway ain't it? So aren't they kind of like fish people?”

“I'll get in at five to one odds.”

“Great.” The door began to howl as the metal was scraped against stone as it opened. “Better to get in early, if they find her too quick you'll miss out on the big bucks!”
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Old 11-12-2019, 09:16 PM   #42
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Both men greeted the doormen with much more familiarity than the soldiers had. Although they were trained for combat just the same as General Dao's men it went without saying there was a clear social stratification between the General's handpicked warriors and the routine staff of the Swamp Garrison. “Tell me about it, brother.” The two watchmen and four doormen shared a quick swig from a communal flask before immediately returning back to the fortress. “You see the way his personal guard struts around like their so bloody important? Always taking their meals in their private chambers, having those midnight training sessions, it's sickening!”

“Don't let the general hear that,” laughed another. “You know he hates us folks from the capital. Always wants to keep everything in-house.”

“Aye, can't blame him. You lot all are gossip and no results.”

“Big talk coming from a man who fell asleep on duty!”

Ringo could feel her face puckering as the men bantered back and forth. They might be in good spirits but every second they delayed was another second Ringo had to cling to the cold rock wall like a flicked booger. In her head she changed her prayer to the Leviathan. Now it wasn't 'rescue my captain', it was 'get these morons moving again'.

“Alright pals, get out of the way. We got to close this sucker now.”

It was starting! Ringo silently swung herself around and once again felt the sun's warm rays hit her face. She spent quite a bit of time in the shadow of the bridge but now the girl's body was fully exposed again. If any of the watchman even glanced out now she would be caught but that was unavoidable. The huge iron door had to be pulled shut and since all the men already moved inside, the doors themselves blocked any view of Ringo as she pulled herself up over the ledge of the bridge. Even if she had made a bunch of noise the racket the door made being pulled closed more than disguised it.

Goodness did it feel good to be on solid land again! Her arms still had work to do, though, and as the door inched shut she hurried to fuss about with her side of things. With mere excruciating minutes to go Ringo got the last bit of rope in place then pressed her back against the cold stone wall. Nothing to do but wait now.

The door groaned into place and Ringo basked in the sunlight, completely exposed. Seconds ticked by. She began to sweat again but not from exertion. From her vantage point she could just make out the heads poking out over the top of the gate's watchtower. She could also see the open doorway, from which at any moment an inspector or guard or other total random person could walk through. If they did the first thing they would undoubtedly notice was panting girl in the black armor of the Village outlined against the fortress's gray stones.

So the stakes felt a little bit higher than usual.

More seconds went by. She could hear it, just faintly, on the wind. The words of the watchmen. Laughter. They were so close. Why were they so close? Who put a gate that close to their main entrance? Ringo began to feel lightheaded, either from holding her breath or from just having spent the better part of an hour rock climbing under imminent threat of death. And still the big iron door remained closed. Had she screwed up? Miscalculated? Probably. Ringo wouldn't even technically be a teenager for another eight months. Brief thoughts of failure flashed through her head. Why hadn't the Academy trained her better? Why hadn't Captain Hideki been able to defend himself? Why wouldn't anyone listen to her?

Just as quickly she silenced those heretical thoughts. Ringo's failures were just that, her failures. If she couldn't mount this rescue then that was because she hadn't followed her teachers as good as she should have. If Captain Hideki was done for, it was because he had a plan and she should have faith in it. And nobody listened to her because Ringo Kurusu was a cadet! That's why ranks existed, after all. Not everyone was worth listening to!

From behind her came frustrated cursing. It might as well of been a choir of angels as far as Ringo was concerned. A heavy iron deadbolt could be heard sliding out from the door behind her.

“Why can't you dumb gits clean up after yourselves? Something's stuck under the hinge again!”
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Old 11-12-2019, 09:31 PM   #43
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Bit by bit the door began to open. Inside the four men pushing it grunted and heaved like mules tied to the plow. “Is it just me, or does thing get heavier when its stuck?”

“Of course it feels heavier, idiot,” panted his comrade. “Debris got wedged on the other side somewhere so now it won't close all the way. I swear, this happens every time we let some outsider morons drive their filthy animals in...”

“Shut up and keep pushing so we can close the damn thing!”

It took two men on each side of the door to fully push it open, as the iron gate opened by splitting down the middle. They opened it just enough to provide passage to one of the men who popped out after several more minutes of grunting. His voice expressed an irritation they all felt.

“Look at this mess! Bunch of bloody twigs and garbage crammed right into the joint!”

As one wiped sweat from his brow he poked his head out through the gap in the open door. “More seagull nests? It's not even the season for it!”

“Wind must have knocked it loose.” The doorman unceremoniously chucked the assorted nest detritus off the bridge. “They need to smooth down the bore on this door, anyway. All that racket it makes when the steel grates up against the ground...gives me goosebumps.”

“What a delicate flower you are!”

“I don't see you picking up seagull garbage, mate! Next time you can come out here and bury your fingers in a bunch of piss covered wood!”

This banter also continued briefly, during which the doorman inspected both sides of the door for good measure. It was a bit odd how purposefully the debris looked like it had been crammed in but in all his long hours on this job there was lots of random stuff that you just had to take in stride. After confirming there wasn't any nests atop or besides the door the men all grabbed the interior handles and began the exhausting process of closing it again. Bit by bit the sun's light disappeared as the shadow of the door replaced it.

When it finally clicked shut one of the doorman grunted and slammed the thick six foot long deadbolt in place with a clean push. “There, tight as a fiddle. You catch all that, kids? Don't come crying to me when the door won't lock because some moron left a banana peel on the ground again!”

More insults playfully bounced back and forth before the men returned to their posts on each corner of the entrance room, waiting for the next knock to summon them forth. Enough light filtered in through the slats in the walls to both illuminate the spartan inside of the fortress and also cast plenty of shadows to lurk in. Ringo sat just beneath one of these, still holding her breath because one of the doorman chose the specific crate she ducked behind as his chair. Of all the rotten luck-

No, no. One must count their blessings. It was nothing short of miraculous how Ringo, poised directly atop where the door split open down the middle, had been able to drop down (relatively) silently just as the men were pushing it open. With their faces buried in the door's metal frame the only way the could have noticed was by the sound she made falling on her rubber sandals. That was more than cloaked by the screeching of the door. It was a single moment, an incredibly tiny blind spot that could only be exploited by the right size and shape of person.

In other words, the exact reason the Village wasted time training child soldiers in the first place. Despite the mounting danger and odorous smell wafting off the doorman and right in her face Ringo had never been more proud. Now came the real test. Finding her team.
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Old 11-12-2019, 09:52 PM   #44
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Deeper down in the garrison in what the soldiers liked to jokingly call the 'dungeon' there was no sunlight and the halls stood in a darkness that rivaled that of the deepest midnight. General Dao liked it that way, said it made it impossible for prisoners to escape. That would be relevant if the garrison had ever had a prisoner in the last ten years. Since the end of the war the only reason anyone ever ventured down into the dungeon was to fetch another sack of potatoes or to catch a nap away from their supervisor's notice.

Lately, though, the General had been keeping two men posted down there at all times. During his midnight training sessions with his 'elite' soldiers the General would head down there and forbid access to anyone else. That all sounded really fishy except that during the day soldiers went down all the time to fetch stuff from storage and never saw anything that made the General's paranoia seem reasonable. The boss might not always be right, but he was always the boss!

Still, the same theoretical barrier that the darkness provided proved just as much of a hassle for the soldiers themselves. Whale oil lamps had to be carried in addition to traveling in pairs so that one didn't get lost in the twisting passage of the storage area/dungeon. The two soldiers guarding it at that moment each had a glowing yellow lamp dangling from their hips. One kept nodding off and the other was chewing on the same piece of gristle he had been working on since lunch.

A knock came at the sturdy wooden door that lead into the dungeon and both men shook themselves out of their trance. The chewing one spat out his stock phrase. “What's your business?”

A bit of silence followed, prompting a quick rejoinder. “Oy, state your business. We ain't letting folks steal any more jerky so you'll have to come back later if that's why you've come a knocking.”

The unseen voice behind the door stammered out his response. “D-delivery. I am dropping something off.”

“Something?” The other yawned then pulled out a clipboard next to his chair. “That isn't very specific, lad. What am I suppose to write in the log here?”

More hesitant silence floated through the musty air before an even more unsure answer was given. “C-chickens. I have chickens to deliver.”

“Calm down, son.” The chewing soldier pointed at the door and grinned at the expense of the unseen delivery boy. “Just cause they call it the dungeon don't make us monsters. Chickens, though.” He rolled his eyes back towards the long hallway leading into the storage room proper. “Like, live chickens? Or salted ones? Crimney I can't stand the salted ones myself. Might be best to just let them rot.”

“P-please, sirs.” The voice pleaded with an unusual sense of urgent sincerity. “Just let me in.”

“Yeah, yeah.” The sleepy soldier huffed and stood up out of his comfortable chair to open the door. “Man, I hate salted chicken too. The way the skin gets stuck in your teeth sometimes. I wish the mess hall would spring for some decent meat some...”

As soon as the mechanical latch on the door clicked open the whole wooden frame lurched out, pushing the soldier aside as the man behind it tumbled forward. Immediately his partner shot up and snatched up his spear from behind and leveled it at the shadows behind the door. “Hold up! What the hey...”

Any further dialog was stopped as a splash of liquid fire was flung out from the lamp in Ringo's hands. The aromatic fuel splattered against the man and he started screaming in earnest as the white hot flames engulfed his vision. Ringo moved with a practiced swiftness to incapacitate the first guard, who was still trying to get up after having been shoved aside. The other was silenced shortly after.

Her bait, some young teenager Ringo cornered moments prior, seemed quite content to remain bound and gagged in a corner while Ringo rifled through the soldier's belongings for additional keys or other goodies. There would be no putting this cat back in the bag, now. Ringo needed to find her team down here now or there would be hell to pay back in the sunlit parts of the fortress.

As she suited up and refilled the lamp on her hip she pointed it menacingly at her hostage. “You are positive you saw them come down this way?” The hostage nodded furiously. Ringo made a doubtful expression as she flipped through the guard's clipboard. “I don't see anything on here about prisoners. It will be your tongue going back with me if I can't find them.”

Keeping her cool Ringo moved back to the wooden door and slid the lock back in place. For something called the 'dungeon' the frame was remarkably weak looking. No doubt it could be smashed open by any brute within minutes. The frailty of the makeshift prison upset Ringo almost as much as the poor documentation of its contents. If you were going to run a jail, you had to do it properly! It was a disgrace to all military outposts to be so careless!
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Old 11-13-2019, 09:17 PM   #45
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Shadows flickered across every barrel, sack, and cannonball that Ringo waved her lamp in front of. Each second wasted was another second closer to getting caught but this kind of detective work was a bit above her ability to process in a timely manner. There was no blood trail to follow here, nor any obvious signs of cells for prisoners. Thinking back a little bit too far she tried pulling on some dusty books sitting on a shelf hoping for a secret passage but all she got was covered in a few long legged spiders.

Could it be her team wasn't in the dungeon? She lifted a heavy burlap bag up and away to see if a trapdoor was concealed beneath. Nope, not here either. In those empty halls even her soft breaths seemed to echo everywhere. The earthy scent of long undisturbed dust tickled her nose. Every couple of steps she wandered into a spider web. This was less of a holding area and more of a tomb.

After getting smacked in the face by a particularly populated web Ringo spat and sputtered and retraced her steps. Logic, she needed to this about this logically! With a renewed scrutiny she lifted the lamp from her belt and held it aloft. Avoid the spider webs because they were gross. A second, less important thought also crossed her mind. There wouldn't be spider webs on the path that they took her team, right? Because someone would have already walked through them. In the cobweb infested corridors of the basement storehouse that certainly could narrow down her approach!

Likewise she drew the lamp down to look at the dirt floor beneath her. Dust wouldn't of had time to settle on whatever path they dragged her comrades down. Leaning down to inspect it closer it became apparent this wouldn't be terribly productive either. There were footsteps all over the place. Grimacing Ringo drew the light back up and spun around in place some more. In every cardinal direction there was another row of furniture or pile of forgotten chests. If nothing else she would have an easy job finding a hiding place...

Last edited by Junge; 11-13-2019 at 09:28 PM..
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Old 11-13-2019, 09:34 PM   #46
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Each step she took reverberated through the room like a roll of thunder. Occasionally she even heard a voice from someone above her. Were they growing more frequent? No, no. Ringo shook her head and loosened some of the dust that settled there. She couldn't think about failure. It was find her team or nothing.

But as Ringo looped back around to the dungeon's entrance that creeping sense of dread reached out to grab her again. This place was huge! The entire basement must have covered the whole fortress foundation. The support pillars spaced regularly through the large room certainly supported that theory. She raised the lamp even higher to look at the vaulted stone ceiling. Such huge clearance as well! If the place were better lit and didn't house so many vagrant roaches it might pass as a ballroom.

Deduction, deduction. Ringo stood still and slowed her breathing. Academy teachers would tell her that over and over again. Don't just memorize, but synthesize. A good soldier followed orders but great soldiers knew when to improvise. She closed her eyes and let the darkness surround her. Two prisoners (or corpses) were brought in last night. They dragged the bodies down here. Since the basic grunts seemed to believe that all three Village envoys were still at large, it had to have been done in secret. That meant they would have been put somewhere the average meathead wouldn't find them. It would also need to be secure, since if Captain Hideki woke up he could without a doubt break free using some ingenious trick Ringo would have never thought of. The Leviathan's power was immense but not overwhelming. Several inches of steel or stone could protect against...

Was that it? Ringo's eyes snapped open and hurried to readjust to the lighting. Even if that was the case how on earth would she...no, she had definitely seen it while wandering around. Her pace quickened and now her feet thudded across the floor with renewed energy. There! A whole row of common gardening equipment in various states of disrepair. Ringo dove in with abandoned, sending all manner of implements clattering around her as she dug through the pile. It would be on top wouldn't it? Her fingers reached out and snatched up the implement, then just as quickly brought it close to her light. She ran a small index finger down the edge of it then rubbed the residue between her fingers.

Ringo knew this. Before starting her career as a soldier by joining the Academy she spent every day helping her family with the farm chores. Her dad could always tell which child of his hadn't been doing their fair share based on the wear and tear on the tools. This shovel had fresh dirt on it.

That could be from anything, of course.

But...

But...!

Ringo gripped the shovel and stood upright as she heard a distant noise that sounded an awful lot like a knock on a door. It was followed by an equally distant rattling noise.

Maybe she could hide?

No. This wasn't the time for hiding. Ringo held the shovel in two hands like she were wielding an executioner's.

Now was the time to save her team.
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Old 11-13-2019, 09:47 PM   #47
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Or, maybe more realistically, find their bodies. You typically didn't bury people alive without a good way to keep them that way. As Ringo tore back down the passages she already retreaded twice over she kept her eyes glued to the earth. Loose or discarded soil would be the most important indicator but any sort of tubing or suspiciously angled furniture might also be- oh! As she spiraled towards the center of the dungeon Ringo caught sight of a slightly darker pile of dirt lying next to several huge kegs. Rushing over she grabbed it and squeezed the earth between her sweaty palms. Loose, airy...not compacted down like the rest of the soil where soldiers spent all day treading upon it.

They wouldn't have possibly stored them under some kegs though, right? Those things were probably full of ale or mead or some other water based liquid. If they leaked even slightly, and Captain Hideki was still alive...it was like storing your lit candles next to your gunpowder stash. Uncertain that even Seagullers were that stupid Ringo took a heavy swing at one keg with her newly acquired shovel. It split the wood on the first strike but no liquid came out, so she repeated it a couple more times. Eventually a growing dark stain let her know the container had been breached and she leaned in to get a good whiff of it.

Ringo's nose curled and she silently retched. More whale oil. Completely worthless, the Leviathan couldn't manipulate oily liquids. Was that good news, or bad news? She stopped thinking about it for a moment and began shoving the shovel into the earth and heaving away massive scoops of dirt. It fell away nicely due to having already been loosened but even with as much energy and bravado as Ringo brought to the table, she couldn't dig very fast or very deep for very long.

Tension mounting Ringo shone her lamp down the path a little ways more. There were enough kegs here, and enough loose soil around their base, to keep her at work for several days. Now she heard shouting in the distance, but not distant enough to make her feel better. Several loud, rhythmic thuds pounded out from the front of the dungeon. Someone was trying to break in.

White knuckles gripped her shovel with a mix of fear and frustration. All that time, all that work, wasted! It was foolhardy to try and guess- based entirely off a hunch- where her team -who might not even still be alive- could be buried – if that was even what had happened. The weight of the world pressed down on Ringo's shoulders and there was nowhere to unburden it. Ringo flexed her arm and felt the weightiness of the shovel respond.

Well, not entirely true. There was one place she could let out her frustration.
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