The stone never spoke to Dahnnae. Thank the gods for small mercies; there was solid bedrock surrounding him in all directions but behind (and the tunnel in that direction was littered with gravel and debris). It would have been deafening had the stuff chosen to speak, and he didn't have time to curl in a corner until the voices left him alone. There was work to do, and he could still smell the gunpowder.
"Here's another, cuz," Bechen murmured, voice pitched too low to echo in the tunnel. A shift to the left, and his shadow danced away from a horizontal black crack in the rough wall of their makeshift tunnel. "We must be getting close to something, the rocks are practically crumbling on their own."
"Praise," Dahnnae answered, and stuffed his grimy parchment packets into the crack. The crack of a gun firing echoed from the other end of the tunnel. "Three days of this, good to know we're getting' somewhere. Back up, here we go again--"
Bech scrambled back, rocks skittering under his feet and hands, and Dahnnae followed him, throwing a tired incantation at the crack. "Ignite," and there it went, with a spark and a noise like thunder. Dahnnae threw his arm across his face--I'm wearing the goggles, right--as dust and shattered rock exploded from the crack, and the wall before them fell away. It was as black and shadowed as the rest of the tunnel, and Bech started with an exasperated groan, but then a ray of light pushed through from behind a dislodged stone.
"Hell yeah," Dahnnae muttered, and went to dig through the rest of the way. "Bech, yell for Sarge, we're through." And about time, too, said his scarf crossly. I do believe there's enough dust in my fibers to build another Rose Keep altogether. But Dahnnae ignored it, and Bechen couldn't hear Merrill. The darker man threw a tiredly cheeky salute and skittered off and away, to go find the Sergeant Brigg and the unit he'd gathered to storm the Rose Keep from below. Seven and a half minutes to get to the end of the tunnel, grab the waiting mercenaries, and be back, and then it would be the beginning of the end.
"Almost done with this, then." Dahnnae shifted aside a large, worn stone that was definitely squarish, and the beam of light doubled. "Hain't no way Lord Laemen can defend his walls and his ass, Rose Keep's done for. And you'll get a wash then, Merill, never fret." A scatter of rubble and dust, and Dahnnae could fit his head and shoulders through the hole. Squinting in the light, he glanced around the cellar they'd broken through to.
I certainly hope so. This silly rebellion has dragged on far too long, and we've not had a proper bath in weeks. Merrill sniffed unhappily at Dahnnae, but brightened a bit at the touch of the lights. The cellar was large, but cramped with stacked casks of wine and barrels of salted meat, and Lord Laemen had had those new gaslights put in on the walls. Expensive, that. But very considerate.
"Got 'em. They'll be up in a minute, now budge over," came the order from behind and below him, and Dahnnae remembered that what took him seven and a half minutes took Bech about four--there were advantages to being short, but he thought maybe it had as much to do with the canyons as with the height thing. Dahnnae wriggled out of the hole in the floor and dragged himself to his feet. As Bech tried to squeeze his own shoulders through the tunnel, he stretched his arms up over his head and listened to the popping of his spine.
"Oh, gods, this is fantastic," the elf moaned, and flipped over into a handstand because he wasn't stuck in a tiny tunnel and he could. "Bech, look!"
"Yeah, yeah, shut up, ya big lumpin' eedjit, I'm stuck. Gimme a hand, eh?" Bech had one arm and his head out of the hole, but the rest of him was lodged firmly inside. Dahnnae rolled down onto his stomach and took hold of his friends arm long enough for the man to glower at the offending floor slab until it crumbled away. Bech swung himself up and into the cellar, and shook the dust out of his clothes. You should probably get off the floor now, Merrill advised, his tone the perfected resignation of the long-suffering.
Dahnnae stood up. He pushed his goggles back around his neck, sneezed, and adjust Merril around his neck. As an afterthought, he half-heartedly swiped at his clothes to dislodge the grime, but abandoned the attempt immediately. Didn't want to mess up the floor too badly, it was a very nice-looking cellar. No need to cause unnecessary damage.
"Our part's done, then. We should get outta the way before the unit comes bargin' through," Bech decided, and marched decidedly across the cellar, as if he knew the cellar like the back of his hand. As if he knew where the door was. 'Course he knows where the door is, a cask of elderberry told Dahnnae. Made o' wood, ain't it? Walls're stone, door's wood. Easy.
"Right," he told the cask, and scurried after Bech. "Can we just walk outta here? Right into the Keep, just like that? Won't someone figure we aren't supposed to be here?" A stack of old trunks cooed excitedly at him, something about 'sweet boys, good to see you, give us a hug now,' but he could only spare them a glance and a grin. Merrill sniffed disdainfully at them. "Ain't keen on getting' shot now, Bech. Prefer not to, actually."
"Won't get shot, don't worry, cuz." The door was right ahead of him, and Dahnnae wondered if all Elderberry wine was so perceptive. "I'd be surprised if anyone was even anywhere near the cellar. Oughta be out on the wall, or in with the wounded. Won't be in the kitchen 'till just mid-afternoon, cellar just after that. We're safe for now."
Bech pushed the door open into a staircase, lit with more of the gaslights. Dahnnae very studiously did not look at them, and tried very hard not to think of things exploding. Exploding gaslights were hard to clean up after. "Where we goin' then?"
"Find a corner to hide in, wait out the rush. I got my hammer, but it's hard to swing in this place, and I don't think knives'd be much good against a sword or a gun," Bechen mused, lips twitching into a smirk. "Naw. We'll wait." At the top of the stairs was another door, and through that a long, deserted hall lined with doors and tapestries.
At the end of the hall, they found what must have, at some point, been a storage room, but someone had tried to convert it to a ladies' room and forgotten halfway through. There was a plush carpet on the floor and upholstered chairs and stools and cushions scattered everywhere. A sofa lounged below the window, and a thick layer of dust covered everything. Wonderful, said Merrill. More dust. These poor things, they'll never be the same again.
Dahnnae threw himself into a chair and sneezed. Bech scowled at the dust--Dahnnae could almost swear the grime parted around him sheepishly--,stormed across the floor, and stuck his head out the window. "Yeah, everyone's up on the walls," he told Dahnnae and the dusty room that was officially very, very frightened. "Oh, look, they've finally got the boiling oil halfway heated up. Don't think it'll be done in time, do you?"
"Oh, I don't think so." Dahnnae was halfway through admonishing the embroidered stool by his feet--mustn't be rude, ought to give them the benefit of the doubt--before he realized the statement hadn't come from the stool at all, but the man who now sat atop it, where there had been no man before.
Dahnnae squinted at him, frowned, and asked, "What makes you say that?" At the window, Bech spluttered.
The man looked thoughtful. "Well, the fire isn't nearly hot enough. And if they don't stir it, I suppose it might congeal." He was dark-skinned, like Bech, but his hair fell in dreadlocks around his face instead of curls. He wore a pair of overalls and no shoes, and Dahnnae noted with approval that his feet were callused and filthy. "But you two might work," he continued, though, Dahnnae suspected, on a different subject, as a pair of dark eyes sized him up appraisingly.
"Work for what?" Bechen demanded furiously, suddenly putting himself between Dahnnae and the men, arms akimbo and stance defensive. Oh, he's defending you, snickered Merrill. Cute. "You with Lord Laemen, then? Wanna string us up on the wall?"
"No, I'm Mudd. I need your help, I don't want to string you up," he said, exasperated. "Here--" He stood, and pointed at Bech's neck. At his necklace, Dahnnae realized, and frowned. "Direct," Mudd said clearly, and then turned his finger on Dahnnae, wavering until it landed on Merrill. "Communicate," he added, and then pulled Dahnnae up by his vest and looked him over once more. "Yes, that should do the trick."
Bech edged between them again, glaring at Mudd, and Dahnnae could see his hands going for the knives at his belt. "Who are you, what do you want, and what is wrong with you?" he demanded, but the man was smiling and nodding.
"Yes, you'll do nicely," he exclaimed, rather happily, and a breeze that shouldn't be there rustled through his dreads.. Dahnnae wondered what kind of magic that was, to make the dust in the room blow up and dance like that. Pretty trick, if nothing else, but Bech yelped and jumped away from Mudd as if he'd been burnt, eyes wide and cheeks flushed. The knives were out now, a long one in each hand, and Dahnnae took a step towards him, reaching for his wrist.
"No, he won't hurt us," he tried to say, but the words stuck in his throat as the world blurred around them. He gripped Bech's wrist and held on, turning back to look at Mudd, but the dust was thick enough to look like fog, and he could hardly see the man. "Merrill, you seein' this?"
"Seeing what, dear?" came the blithe reply, and Bech shrieked in Dahnnae's ear, and then he couldn't see anything anymore.