Branching off from the chalk deposit, this rough-hewn stone tunnel angles downward for some distance before ending abruptly. A well takes up the center of the small chamber at the end of the tunnel, also rough-hewn. The moldering remains of buckets and rotted rope attest to its former use.
The black rabbit has led Zahnrad and Amelia to this spot, and further noses at some dried blood stains and scraps of clothing that are scattered around. "Can't… go… farther," the vampire-possessed bunny stutters out. The air feels moist here and has a definite scent of sulfur.
"You've taken us far enough, thank you," Zahnrad comments to the rabbit as he kneels down beside the scraps of clothing to inspect them. "How long has the blood been here, do you think? You know more about blood, Amelia, than I do."
Amy picks at one of the stains, and sniffs at it as well. "A few days, maybe. Could be wrong, with this moist air. Pretty sure these scraps haven't been down here long though."
"Think these are her clothes?" Zahn asks next. "It doesn't look like enough blood to be life threatening… "
"I don't know what Miranda was wearing," Amelia notes, and picks up a bit of black cloth. "But Clover was wearing black. The blood could be hers too, if she was struggling with something that had really sharp talons."
"Well, we know those things do. And probably went down this shaft," Zahn comments. He scoots over near the shaft and leans over it, looking for claw marks in the lining.
The stone walls of the 'well' are rough and fairly worn down, but there are a few telltale scrapes that look fresh.
Amy gets on her belly and shines her crystal-light down the hole. "I don't see the bottom," she reports, sounding uneasy. "I got stuck down a well once."
"Before I drop a rope down the shaft, I need you to promise me something," Zahn comments as he sets down his pack near the two. "And you're fine, this is plenty wide for you. If Clover and her big butt made it down, you certainly can… "
"You've looked at her butt?" Amy asks in surprise. "I mean… what do you want me to promise?"
"Lapi butts are always bigger. Wider hips," Zahn notes with a shrug, then actually reaches over and feels Amy's hips to verify hers aren't huge. "Well, you have to promise me that if we find Clover … you will remain calm."
"You think I'd attack her or something?" Amy asks, wide-eyed. "Or you just don't want me to get angry at… well, whatever I see?"
"I think you would yell, and I don't want to attract anything down here," Zahn says with a tap on Amelia's nose. "I personally want you to stay alive. Otherwise I'd have to explain what happened to your father, and well, uh."
"I'm sorry Mister Blacktail, your daughter yelled at a huge monster and it ate her in one bite," Zahn adds with a grin.
"I'll try to keep quiet, promise," Amelia says, and winks to Zahn. "Now then, getting down is probably easy, but do you have some nifty means of getting back up in a hurry, especially if we have to lug a body?"
"Well, possibly. What we need is a pulley and a large rock. We can use the rock as a counterbalance to our own weight. Pity there isn't a second shaft, though. But if there's one down below, I can work with that. Sort of like how the elevator at the compound works," Zahn says as he pulls out a coil of rope, some chitin spikes, and a pulley. He looks around for a good anchor point for the pulley.
The stone walls and floor are rough, with lots of cracks and fissures. There aren't any conveniently large or loose stones however that could be used for a counterweight.
"We'll have to see what is down below, looks like, for a quick way up," Zahn comments as he selects one of the fissures and hammers in one of the spikes he brought. "So, have you heard anything from your cousin, Roy, about Deirdre and what they've been up to?
"The forge hasn't exploded," Amy notes, as if that counted as a clue. "So… no idea really. They could be making changes, or just snogging or reading through all his old books."
"I have a hard time imagining them snogging," Zahnrad notes as the pike is set. He then tests it by grabbing on, pulling, then bouncing his weight while pulling.
Amy gets behind Zahn, just in case the piton comes loose and he needs to be caught. "Really? Has she been acting any different?" the girl asks.
"Calmer, I guess. Less tense and grumpy. It's like she's working out some frustrations," Zahn says as he starts to set a second spike so that the hold will be strong. "I wonder what she would be doing that would calm her down so much."
"Roy has lots of big hammers and stuff," Amy notes. "Hammering is very relaxing."
"Heh. I thought you preferred axes," Zahn says as the second spike is placed. He goes about securing the pulley to them now. "Do you want to go down first, or want me to?"
Amy looks down the well shaft again, her tail twitching at the site of the slimy walls. "I guess I should go first, since you can haul me up faster than I could haul you if something goes wrong."
"Are you saying I'm fat?" Zahn asks and peers at Amelia.
"No, you're stronger than I am," Amy notes, and turns to grin at Zahn.
"Drat. And here I was hoping to get a good view of your tail while I was going down," Zahn comments with a grin. The Kadie then leans in and lightly kisses Amelia, adding, "You be careful, then. If anything comes, you yell for me to get you out. No heroics."
"I thought you wanted me to be quiet?" Amy says after the kiss, and puts her weapon together. With the lamp hanging from a cord around her neck, she says, "Okay, ready to be tied up!"
"Quiet unless you're in danger, of course," Zahn notes as he slips one end of the rope between Amelia's legs, then around her thigh and then back under her her and around her other thigh and up around her waist. He then wraps it and does an easy-release knot around the longer part of the rope just before he threads the opposite end through the pulley. "That should make it easier for you to swing at something if you need to, you're in sort of a rope swing now," he notes, then takes up position with the other rope side. "Just remember to use your legs to push off the walls when you need to."
Amelia nods, and goes to the well edge. With the pointy bits of her weapon aimed downwards, she carefully lowers herself into the well until she can get by with just using her legs and the support of the rope. "Lower away, Zahn," she calls.
Zahn nods and starts lowering Amelia slowly. "Oh, one thing," he says as she disappears, "Don't think about the slugs that are likely on the walls."
"Aauugh!" Amy moans. As she goes down, Zahn can hear the occasional whack against stone. After about forty feet, Amy's voice echoes up with, "Hold up!"
Zahn immediately stops lowering Amelia. "What is it?" he calls back.
"Water," comes the reply. "Testing the depth. Okay, only about two feet deep, lower away."
Zahn continues to lower Amelia the rest of the way. He then ties off the rope on the second hook. "Safe for me to come down?" he calls down.
"Yes, nothing moving down here," Amy calls up. "Should I undo the harness, or do you want me to be anchor?"
"Hm. Anchor, I won't bounce as much against the walls on the way down," Zahn answers. Quickly, he pulls on some palm-padded fingerless gloves and a few unusually shaped chitin devices from his pack, before closing and securing it over his shoulder. He hooks the devices on the rope, then wraps it around his leg. And then … down the Kadie goes, using the devices as brakes on the rope to keep from sliding down too fast.
"Just don't fall on me!" Amy warns, holding the rope with her free hand to help keep it centered.
"Only if I was trying to pounce you," Zahn assures Amelia. He descends pretty quickly, all in all.
The bottom of the well is filled with warm, smelly water, hip-deep on Amelia. There's only one passage leading away from the bottom, which hopefully won't lead to deeper water.
"Lovely smell you've discovered," Zahn grumbles, "We should have brought some mint rub to put on our noses. But, ah well, into the darkness we go. Hopefully this was a good idea."
"We'll know if we find someplace dryer," Amy retorts, and heads into the side passage. The roof is a bit low, at least for Zahn, and the tunnel doesn't follow a straight path. There are spots where it dips and rises, making sure the Kadies get thoroughly soaked before coming to the first fork, where the passage splits in two.
"Great, a fork," Zahnrad grumbles, now very wet and very stinky. His brow furrows a bit, then he starts inspecting the nearby walls for scratches in hope of finding which way things may have gone recently.
The walls are slick with moisture and mineral deposits, with no obvious marks. "Maybe we should use Qing's spell now," Amelia suggests.
"Oh, right, I completely forgot we even had it. So, uh, how do we use it?" Zahnrad wonders as he gets out the lamp that Qing had cast a spell on. "Not sure I trust magic," he admits.
"You touch the Creen skull he gave you to the lamp," Amy answers.
"Oh, right. This magic stuff never makes any sense to me," Zahn admits and he fishes around in various pockets for the skull. "I know it's here somewhere… " he mutters. A good few minutes pass and just when it seems like he must have lost it, Zahn produces the skull. Looking skeptical, he pokes the lamp with it, saying, "Uh, go, uh, find Clover." To Amelia, he whispers, "I feel silly."
A puff of vapor rises from the lamp, in the form of a spectral Creen. Before it can fly off, Amelia quickly says, "Spirit, find the white Lapi woman in these tunnels, then come back and lead us to her." As the Creen flits off down one of the passages, she tells Zahn, "You need to be as specific as possible with simple spirits. Otherwise it might have found an actual clover, or something, and just sat there until it ran out of magic."
Zahnrad shrugs a bit. "I build stuff," he says lamely, "I don't know anything about magic."
Amelia leans against the wall, and says, "I guess machines are more reliable? Although yours still seem to have a mind of their own sometimes."
"They do exactly what you tell them to, it's completely different than … uh, okay, I see your point," Zahn has to agree with a shrug. "So, how has it been being my mother's apprentice of a sort? Has she had you doing anything yet?"
"Nothing yet," Amelia admits. "Been kinda busy with other things. I'll check with her when we get back. Has she said anything about chores or training to you?"
"Nothing specific. It usually tends to center around things the trainee wants to learn. Have you talked with her on what you would want to be involved in?" Zahn asks as he leans against the slimy wall.
"I should learn how to cook sometime," Amelia offers, the glittering of her lamp and its reflection in the water casting squirmy shadows around her. "What do you think I should learn, so that I'm actually useful around the dam?"
"Well, you already know how to duck pretty well," Zahnrad notes with a grin. The Kadie then taps on his chin, thinking a bit more. "I would say the basics of force and stress. Then you could tell if there are areas where too much pressure may be building up on the dam. Or just perhaps in general how the dam is built and laid out." And then with a teasing and completely joking grin, he adds, "She could also teach you how to be a parent, but I rather doubt you're ready for that."
"Hmmm, but I will need to know how to take care of you," Amy notes. She seems about to comment further, but the glowing spirit Creen returns and interrupts by flying in a spiral and then waiting for something.
"Take care of me? I take care of myself pretty well!" Zahnrad asserts. He then can't help but peer at the Creen, then ask, "What is it, Creeny? Is Clover down the … ack, I can't even manage to say that. Did you find a white Lapi? Nod once if you did."
The spirit bobs up and down once. "She must be close by, then," Amelia surmises, and then asks, "Do you think chalk marks will work on these damp walls?"
"Should. It'll be pasty, but if we mark high it ought to stay," Zahn says with a nod. "Do you have any? I think I have some in my pack, I use it for marking distances a lot."
"Mine is all wet," Amy notes, and raises up her halberd. "But I can use this to notch arrows into the walls too."
"Try that first. It would probably work better than chalk," Zahn says after a moment of consideration. "I could use the hammer to mark the walls too, if need be."
Amy picks a spot near the fork, and hacks a simple ">" shape pointing back towards the bottom of the well. In the lamplight, it shows up a little brighter than the damp surrounding stone.
"Good enough?" she asks Zahn.
Zahn looks at it, then nods. "Make a second one above it just in case the water level rises. Otherwise, that does stand out pretty well," he says, then extends his hand to the spirit. "Curl on my hand and point yourself in the direction we should go," he tells it.
After making the second mark higher up, the Kadies follow the Creen like a compass needle. Marking as they hit intersections, it isn't too long before the pair come to a widening in the passage. The water is a little shallower here, but the thing that the Creen points to causes Amy to gibber a bit. "I'm staying calm, I'm staying calm," she mutters, as she stares at the mass of… well, giant snails, sort of. Each is nearly a foot long, with a spiky, conical shell and a dozen feeler-tentacles around a chitin beak instead of the usual eyestalks and horns. Bits of white fur show between them, and the group appears to be feasting on the remains of a black dress.
"That's … bad," Zahn whispers quietly. "Do you think that was actually Clover? Maybe it was some of the rabbits Buffy feeds on… " He then frowns, figuring that it probably is Clover. He tries to see if there is a passage beyond the mass.
The tunnel does continue on past the slimy scene, but the Creen keeps pointing to the snails. "We… we'll have to check anyway," Amy says, sounding sick. She moves forward, and uses the blade of her halberd to try and tip one of the snails away from the body. "I think I'm going to be sick," she mutters while doing so.
"Want me to do it?" Zahnrad offers and extends his free hand to Amelia. He isn't grossed out by snails, at least.
"You'd actually touch them?" Amy asks, aghast. "They could bite you or… tentacle you… "
"Give me your halberd," Zahnrad points out, "I'll move them with that."
Amelia hands over the weapon without argument something she probably wouldn't do under any other circumstance. "Be careful. She might still be alive under that, if they're just eating her dress."
Zahnrad nods and then goes about the grim task of trying to shovel the shelled snotballs out of the way using the halberd. Oddly, he finds himself hoping her body isn't there. As bad as Clover could be, he never truly felt that she should die. "All right, all of you, move it before I find some salt," he grumbles.
The snail do react to Zahn's presence, and slowly begin to scatter. Beneath the slime there is definitely white fur, often marked by minor cuts. The Lapi's mostly bared chest is also rising and falling, but not with any great strength.
"She's alive," Zahn says back to Amelia and offers her her halberd back. "I'll carry her; I'm stronger."
"Thank you, Zahn," Amelia says, coming closer now that the snails are largely gone. Lifting up Clover reveals something else though: either the snails think hair is pasta, or else the Lapi's scalp as been shaved bare. The exposed skin is covered in red circular welts as well.
Zahnrad kneels beside the body and lifts her up slowly so that he can get a better look. Aside from the welts, he looks for actual cuts in the skin, having an almost sinking feeling that someone may have 'operated' on her head, a-la Igor.
All of the cuts look minor, and where she's still covered match up to cuts in the fabric of her clothing.
"As much as I want to explore down here, we need to get her medical help," Zahn says quietly to Amelia and lifts the Lapi the rest of the way out of the water. He tries to hold her close as he can, as well, to keep her warm. "Clover," he whispers to her, "Can you hear us?"
A small moan escapes the Lapi's mouth, but nothing like a definite response. "Let's get her back to the castle then. Igor's been taking care of Bravil, so probably knows what to do." Amelia reasons. She's got her weapon back, and is eyeing the tunnel suspiciously, as if expecting some sort of giant tentacled brain-sucking monster to appear.
"You'll have to climb up the rope first. I'll need to tie her to my back and climb up with her. Or, hmm, I tie you both together and haul you both up at once. Which would you prefer?" Zahnrad asks as he starts back the way he came. Now and then, he can't help but glance over his shoulder.
"We put her in the harness, and you climb up to pull her up, then drop the rope back down for me," Amelia suggests. The Creen has dissipated already, so she follows the cuts they made along the way.
"Fair enough," Zahn says with a nod. "So, do you think those things chewed her hair off or it happened beforehand? My bet is … beforehand." His brow furrows a bit. "But why?"
"The trolls we saw hardly had any body fur," Amy says, then suggests, "Maybe they wanted to make a wig or were trying to make her look more 'pretty'. We can ask Clover if… I mean, when she wakes up."
"She'll wake up. Maybe they were trying to implant those spiky bits we saw in them. Hmm. check her fingernails," Zahnrad comments and stops so Amelia can examine her hands.
The Lapi's claws look as if they've been dipped in paint, until Amy flakes some of the color off. "Dried blood, and probably not hers. She put up a struggle," the Kadie girl suggests.
"Hm. Okay, check her teeth too, and her eyes if you can," Zahn suggests next. "I want to be sure we're not carrying a monster back up."
Amy pulls back an eyelid to reveal a dilated (but otherwise normal) pupil, and there doesn't seem to be anything unusual about Clover's teeth either. Amelia pauses for a moment after pushing the Lapi's lips closed again. "Something else to check, but not here," she says.
"If she was assaulted, right," Zahn realizes after a bit of thinking. "Okay, let's get out of here and get her to warmer places," he adds and hurries back towards the rope leading up.
The marks lead them back to where they started, at the bottom of the well. The rope is still in place where they left it, so it seems unlikely that anyone or any thing came back ahead of them.
Zahnrad goes about the task of tying Clover securely and as gently as he can into the rope. "You'll have to hold her while I climb. I'll try not to jerk the rope around too much," he tells Amelia.
Amelia hugs onto Clover to keep her steady, now that the passage through the flooded tunnels has more or less washed off the slime.
"I'll be as fast as I can," Zahn tells Amelia. And then up the rope Zahnrad goes. He uses his toeclaws against the walls to try and keep himself steady and not jar the rope too much as he ascends. Once up top, he calls down, "Ready for me to pull her up?"
"Be careful," Amy says, letting go of the comatose rabbit. "She probably won't notice if you bang her against the wall, but she doesn't deserve that anyway."
Zahnrad starts pulling the rope up slowly. He takes care to note the tug of the rope and if it seems if she's catching or hitting on anything as she goes ip.
The Lapi probably slides against the wall now and then, but there aren't any new scratches or bruises when she makes it to the top.
Zahnrad goes about undoing the rope from her body. "I've seen more of your body than I ever cared to," he comments idly to her, "Not that it's much different from your sister's, of which I've seen all." Once the rope is loose, he drops it back down the shaft to Amelia.
Confident that nothing is coming after them, Amy splits her weapon and holsters it. This frees both of her hands, and she's able to shimmy up the rope quick as a squirrel. At the top of the well, the black rabbit is still waiting to lead them back out of the labyrinth.
Lifting Clover back up, Zahn notes to Amelia, "You know, it's possible her head-hair may never grow back."
"Nothing wrong with hats," Amy quips, and helps gather up the rope.
"Think she'll tell us what happened?" Zahnrad asks, then looks down at the battered Lapi. "I honestly feel sorry for her."
"She'll tell us," Amelia says, giving her rival a somber stare. "I don't want her leaving the castle before we know what happened. We have to keep finding her a secret too for now."
"Maybe they have another collar like they're keeping on Rey. He volunteered for it, I … think. She, well, won't be. Besides, if anyone asks, we can claim it was quarantine to make sure she wasn't monster infected," Zahnrad comments as the two follow the black rabbit back through the maze.
"I'm sure having Igor as a nurse will make her eager to confess as well," Amelia says, with a grim little smile.
"I know I would blubber like a baby," Zahnrad agrees. The Kadie then blinks a few times and asks quietly, "Which reminds me … I have odd memories of that Skreek probing me in places best left unmentioned back when I was hurt. That was a dream, right?"