********************PART 9********************This is a stolen journal, originally belonging to a soldier named "HARD", who had a particularly strong stomach. The story of "V", also known as "Vanya", continues within its pages. It appears as though it may be far from over, though it is unclear just how much more she wrote. Only a few more entries grace these hard-bound sheets of rope reed parchment - if she wrote a full account of her adventures, the remainder must be contained elsewhere.
"Victory" is an odd word... it implies that you've won; it implies that the enemy has been defeated. But what if you've lost while you've gained? What if both sides believe they have a victory? What if both get what they desire, and believe they've struck a crushing blow to the other? What word do you use then?
Some try to change it by calling it a "hollow victory" or a "little victory", but that's only tacking one word onto another. In the end, it doesn't matter what you call it. It's still not a complete win. Your opponent has defeated you in some ways, just as you've defeated your opponent in others.
Even if a great leader loses only a few dwarves while her enemy loses thousands of elves, like the Queen Tholtig fairy tale, those few dwarves who died have been defeated. The victory is near complete, but not total. And what if this great leader only had a few soldiers to begin with? What if she defeats thousands of elves and drives them back, but loses her entire civilization? The enemy was driven back, but could you really call it a victory?
You understand my problem... I don't know whether what I managed on that day was really a victory. I saved Talvi's life, and that of Mr Frog's, but was it really a victory? The true enemy, Joseph, was still at large, and had simply used me to further his cause. In the end, Joseph got what he wanted: Mr Frog's promise to assist him with a favor. The only way he failed was that I wasn't killed. But if he really knew everything... why wasn't I dead? If he could predict my
actions - as well
as those of Mr Frog's - with almost perfect precision, why hadn't I died? Was there something he didn't know? Was he maybe getting lazy?
I've had plenty of time to think and wonder these past weeks...
As I watched the tall, cloakless form of Mr Frog follow the path that Urist had taken deeper into the fortress, an idea suddenly struck me: my bracelet was unprotected. I could walk right into Mr Frog's room and find it, and it was unlikely that there were any traps remaining in there. A hope surged through my already-happy heart, and I turned, starting towards his room. I was excited, in a way: my bracelet would soon finally, finally be in my possession.
I knew I still had to be careful, though... the guards were on watch for me, and as I snuck through the many doors of the upper levels, I saw several soldiers snatching skulkers out of the shadows and asking them questions. Splint had given orders to look for me, just like he'd said he would a few hours before... the past few years, no one bothered to stop us except Mr Frog and Mitchewawa, but now every guard and every soldier was assisting. In a fortress where a third of the dwarves are in the military, that's saying something.
Through an accident, I'd suddenly made the basement class visible. I hoped they wouldn't hate me for it, and I especially
hoped that the guards didn't know I was an elf. I knew in my heart that if they did, one of them
at least would let it slip... and the entire fortress would know who I was.
These horrible, pointed ears drive me mad sometimes... they make me feel like I'm some kind of horrible mutant... like I stand out and everyone can tell who I am just by looking at me, beanie or not.
I may be an elf, but I was raised as a dwarf. While I don't hate my kind like King Cacame from the fairy tales did, Iím ashamed of who I am. I shouldn't be in a dwarf's fortress, but at the same time, it's my home.
Splint was right: my bracelet shouldn't exist. I
When I reached the apartment level, I walked straight down the corridors to Mr Frog's room, and it was just a few minutes move before I stood directly outside.
As I turned the knob, I found to my dismay that it wouldn't move. He'd locked it when he'd left.
Of course the first thought in my mind was the little passage in the tail of Talvi's cavy room.
Standing before it once more, I looked inside. The grate still hadn't been placed back; it had only been an hour or less since I'd entered last, and Talvi had come after me.
As I steeled myself against my fears, preparing to enter, I couldn't help but smile as I found that this time, the fourth time through, I wasn't so scared. My heartbeat quickened still, but it didn't seem so horrible. With this helpful boost in my confidence, I entered the little vent.
I plunged forwards through the thick darkness as the tunnel gained altitude, brushing my fingertips against the now-familiar walls, my arms outstretched, trying to stay cheerful and keep the half-hearted smile from leaving my face, even as I swallowed in fear and began to hyperventilate. I wanted to get out of there as fast as I could.
I can't see in the dark like a dwarf can, but my sense of touch is the same. Some people even say that elves have more sensitive skin... I'm not sure if it's true, but it was an added comfort to feel that the walls weren't actually going to crush in on me.
Abruptly I came to a halt, as my ears caught the sound of someone up ahead: a female voice, speaking quietly. I got to my knees to avoid the sloping ceiling and crept towards the tunnel exit, listening carefully.
"I'm sorry, sir, but I see no blood," the woman spoke. I continued forwards until I could just see inside Mr Frog's room.
Then I heard a voice I recognized all too well, overdone with pleasantry. "Disappointing, disappointing. Are there any signs of the girl's death, or anything unusual?" It was unmistakably that of Joseph, but the hateful tone he'd used with me was gone. I crawled ahead to the end of the tunnel and peered inside.
A strange figure was pacing about the room, apparently human, but her apparel seemed otherworldly. The sloping chest vouched for it being a woman. She seemed to be searching the floor for something, while speaking to someone I couldn't see. "There are two discarded daggers here, sir. While metal, they aren't of dwarven make - I've never seen anything like it before. Their blades are badly damaged."
The woman walked briskly across the room to one of the corners, and I could see her lift one of Talvi's daggers. Just for a brief, brief moment, I caught sight of a magical tablet similar to the one Mr Frog had. She was holding it and using it the same way.
"Here you are, sir," she said. I got the impression that she might be a soldier of some sort: everything she did had a very professional feel to it.
"Very interesting, very interesting indeed..." I heard Joseph muse. "It is weaponry of the Vampiric wars, likely belonging to Talvi Diamondknight, who served with Splint Spearspin, just before the last of the vampires were wiped from existence. The damage pattern appears consistent with that of one of Mr Frog's chainswords, likely the one you found destroyed - perhaps he desired to test his weapon before he got rid of her. Are there any other abnormalities in the room? Make sure you've made a thorough sweep."
She placed it back on the floor where she'd found it and began to slowly sweep her eyes across the floor, approaching my little corner beside Mr Frog's bed. I backed a little further down the shaft.
That was when I realized that she'd somehow gotten inside while the door was locked. After a little thought, I decided that Mr Frog's cavy tunnel must've been better known than I believed: Joseph clearly knew of it, and it seemed the woman working for him had known of it as well.
Finally she stopped, less than ten feet away from me, and bent down, picking something up off the floor. As she bent downwards, her straight, dark hair fell forwards, and her ears poked through behind it. I started as I realized that she was an elf, just like me. She had pointed ears just as I did, and yet she didn't appear to be ashamed of them, as she went without a hat.
She held up what she'd retrieved in front of the tablet. "Two syringe darts, sir, empty of fluid."
"I see, I see!" Joseph sounded joyful, and as if he'd just solved a great puzzle. "Mr Frog decided to poison her rather than spill her blood, excellent! He's a clever man, as I've often said. Everything is going as I planned it, and rightly so! You have done well, Vanya Carena. You may return to Ballpoint Technologies until I have further need of you."
"Yes sir," she said, and her face dimmed as the tablet's front ceased to throw light onto it.
I hardly noticed her response, so struck was I by the fact that standing a stone's throw in front of me was the real
spy... the person Mr Frog had thought I was... the person who shared my first name. Joseph had pronounced it correctly, too, rhyming the first syllable with "pawn", a word that is too often in my mind now.
Walking to the shimmering hoops on the darker side of the room, the elven spy began to work with some of the machinery. Suddenly there was a flash of light and a buzz like bees, and the hoop widened to a tall oval, the air inside it rippling and shimmering like water. I gasped aloud at the sight before I could stop myself. Fortunately, Carena didn't seem to notice, and stepped right into the magical device as if it was something she did every day. She disappeared completely; there was nothing left of her. I've never, ever seen anything like it, before or since.
With another buzz and a whoosh, the rippling air seemed to burn away like flames, and in an instant, it was back to normal.
I couldn't help but wonder, though... why would Joseph send Carena? Why an elf? Why someone who shared my first name, and apparently my initials as well?
I laid inside the tunnel, my thoughts racing as I attempted unsuccessfully to will myself to move. The words in Talvi's envelope echoed through my mind: "Joseph must be stopped."
I moved forwards into Mr Frog's room and got to my feet. Taking the envelope back out of my blouse, I shook the contents into my hand.
The key was strange: the bits were hollow, and were filled with black and golden metal. What had my attention at the time, however, was the little slip of parchment. I read it again: "Joseph must be stopped."
On a whim, I flipped it over, and was surprised at what I saw: I'd missed the writing on the other side, which was in a smaller, lighter style of handwriting. It was still in Talvi's crude scrawl, and read, "He said he'll destroy Speerbraekers. Warn Splint. It's dangerous to go alone. Take this, and". The message ended abruptly, leaving me wondering what she'd forgotten to write.
It was ridiculous. Why would Talvi send me, a basement-class dwarf, to Splint? Talvi knew Splint wasn't fond of skulkers, even without
knowing he'd mandated my arrest. She was basically sending me into the honey badger's den, alone.
I looked at the key again. She'd said it was dangerous to go alone, but what did the key fit? Was it supposed to summon some sort of magical creature meant to protect me?
I slipped the key and parchment clipping back into my envelope, wondering how much time I would have to search for my bracelet before Mr Frog returned. I was sure that if he found me in his office again, it wouldn't matter that I saved his life or helped him with Talvi. I was sure he'd try to kill me again.
With this in mind, I only spent a few minutes searching for my bracelet before quitting. If my little keepsake had been in there at all, he'd hidden it very cleverly.
I could've gone back through the cavy tunnel, but I really, really didn't want to have to travel through that tiny passage again if I could help it. I decided to brave the hallways instead, unlocking the door and leaving Mr Frog's room.
Locking the door behind me, I hurried down the wide corridors to Talvi's room, as I believed it to be the most likely location for a lock her key would fit. It was
her key, after all.
I had to dodge into a bedroom at one point to avoid the guards patrolling the halls, something I'd never had to do before. Thankfully, the bedroom was vacant, and it wasn't long before I hurried on my way. Not long after that I reached my destination.
Removing the key again, I began walking around Talvi's room, trying to find a chest or cabinet it would fit. Ironically, most of them were already unlocked; security was a matter Talvi never considered.
I finally gave up and left, but to my delight met a familiar face in the hallway outside the door.
"Talvi!" I whispered happily, giving her a hug.
"Aw, my V girl!" she exclaimed a bit too loudly, giving a hug that nearly crushed the life out of me. "What's the hug for?"
I shook my head. "I'm just happy," I said, hastily retrieving the key from the envelope again. "Talvi, have you seen this key before?" I asked, holding it up in the light.
The former overseer looked it over carefully, moving her head to look at one side, and then the other. Leaning in closely, she sniffed it, before straightening with a shrug. "Sorry, V, I ain't ne'er seen it afore. You lookin' for a lock it fits?"
I nodded, putting it back in my blouse. "Yes, Miss Talvi. I just thought you might know," I said unhappily. She noticed my disappointment and appeared chagrined. "It's okay, though," I added quickly. "Thank you anyway, you're a great help to me."
This appeared to cheer her somewhat. "Aw, thass no problem," she said with a wide smile, giving me another, smaller hug. "I'll let y'know iffn I sniff out a lock that smells like it, though, 'K?"
I knew her well enought to know that "sniff out" wasn't likely a figure of speech. "All right. And thank you again!" I said quietly, and then we parted ways.
It's remarkable what a little bit of hope can do for a girl: though I was homeless, and all I had in my possession was a stolen journal, a mysterious key, and a hat from a garbage heap, somehow I thought that maybe bringing Talvi's warning to Splint as she requested would redeem myself in his eyes. I didn't care for being a hero or saving the fortress. I just wanted back to my old, quiet life... the way things used to be. I never wanted wealth; I never wanted power. I especially never wanted fame... I'd be more likely to receive infamy, anyway, just because of my elven heritage. I just wanted to live in peace. I wasn't cut out for any of what was going on, and I knew it, too.
I hesitated outside Splint's office door for a moment, pressing my ear to it. I could hear quiet voices, but I wasn't sure whom they belonged to. Finally I got up enough courage to draw up a plan in my head: I would show him the slip of paper, and then, when I had his attention, I'd show him the key. If there was anyone who might know what it unlocked, it would be him. After getting Talvi's parchment message out, I knocked on the door.
The slat drew back, revealing the eyes and raised eyebrows of a dwarf. The door opened quickly, and a hand pulled me inside.
I looked up at my captor: it was Draignean, another former overseer of the fortress. He always wore what he called a "man skirt", as well as a very flashy dress shirt, and his hair was always, always very neatly combed. He was unmistakable.
His musical voice was just as recognizable. "Could this be that same dangerous, skulking spy, Splint?" he asked, dragging me behind him towards the conference table where Splint and Colonel Fischer were getting to their feet in surprise. "It would appear my sheer magnetism has drawn her out of the woodworks, and as you can see she's clearly no match for my strength." The weird thing was, he wasn't being sarcastic. He really does have that big of an ego.
Splint's brow furrowed. "Enough, Draignean. Remove that hat she's wearing - let's see if it's really her."
Draignean removed it with a flourish and a bow, as if he was finishing some great act onstage. I could feel the blood that crept into my cheeks as Fischer spoke: "Pointed ears. It's her."
Splint only shook his head. "You're definitely the dumbest spy I've ever seen, but at least you've saved us the trouble of tracking you down." Turning, he spoke to Fischer. "Cuff her - let's get her down to the prison."
"Wait!" I yelled, and three sets of eyes came to rest on me. "I brought you something you have to see. Someone's trying to destroy the fortress, and I'm trying to help you!" I straightened out the piece of paper as best as I could and held it up.
Draignean snatched it from my fingers. "It appears to be an ancient dialect of Koboldese. Fortunately, I can read in no less than sixteen languages."
Splint raised an eyebrow. Beside him, Fischer rolled her eyes.
"Junn sepp mussabbi stuppidd..." Draignean mused in a serious, thoughtful tone. "Would you like me to translate?"
"No." Fischer answered flatly, walking forwards at a rough pace and snatching it from him. "Please, please don't." She took it to Splint, who examined it carefully. I watched, actually hopeful that I might be allowed a room of my own when it was all over.
Splint scratched his beard. "Koboldese? This is nothing more than Dwarven Standard. Corai's taught me how kobolds communicate, anyway - they don't use writing. This handwriting's horrible, though..." He flipped it over, reading the other side. "You
," he addressed me, "who wrote this?"
"It was Miss Talvi, Mr. Splint," I said as calmly as I could.
It was a mistake to say. His expression changed from a thoughtful curiousness to disdain. "You clearly couldn't have been here long - Talvi isn't right in the head, and we don't take anything she says at face value. Let's just finish this business - Fischer, hurry up and take her to the prison."
Fischer pulled out a set of manacles and approached me. "Splint, I've had to tell you many, many times. This fortress has been running for six years, and we still
don't have a prison. Not even a room with chains attached to the floors and walls."
I shook my head and tried to get away, but even one-handed, Draignean was too strong for me. "I will receive public credit for her capture, I assume?" he asked, examining the fingernails of his free hand with a pleased look on his face.
"Of course not," Splint said as I switched captors.
I felt the cold steel of the handcuffs biting into my wrists... dwarven handcuffs aren't something to mess around with, and Fischer puts them on tightly.
"This has to be kept secret," Splint continued. "I don't want it getting out that we have an elvish spy in custody. And Fischer..." He paused for a moment, deep in thought.
"Sir?" she asked, standing at the ready.
"If we really don't have a jail, just throw her in a room near the spawn."
I bit my lip, but made a final, desperate effort. "Wait!" I cried out. "I have something else to show you!"
A hand clamped over my mouth with vicious strength. "Yes sir, Splint," Fischer said. "I'm going to take the liberty to knock her unconscious as well."
"Fine, fine," Splint said unconcernedly, already turning back to his work. "And keep those ears of hers covered - I don't want this getting out. We can deal with her later."
I felt my beanie being jammed over my ears, and that was all I knew before Fischer's gauntleted fist came down roughly on my head.
And... here I've been for the past... I don't know how long, honestly. A few months at least, I'm sure. I can hear dwarves talking down the hall on occasion, when the Spawn caged near me aren't screeching hideously and clawing at their doors. If I heard correctly, Mitchewawa isn't the overseer anymore. It's someone new: Paintbrushturkey. He seems pretty bright, at least - I heard someone saying migrants actually made it to the fortress for once, despite the hundreds of zombies milling outside our gates. That hasn't happened in years. It also sounds like he did an incredible job of upgrading the military, something you'd expect from an army dwarf.
The Spawn Isolation Chambers, where I am, have been designated as an area with restricted access. Splint didn't want anyone in here who wasn't cleared.
He interrogated me once, early on, but he didn't stay long. "I'll come back when you feel more willing to talk," he told me, wincing at the noice the Spawn were making as he left. His room is up on the top floor, far away from the noise they make; unlike the rest of the dwarves, he doesn't have to sleep through their racket, and he's not used to it. To his credit, though, he did bring me a charcoal pencil... Splint's a kind dwarf at heart. I'm not completely sure, but I don't think he sees me as a spy anymore.
The only person I see regularly is Fischer... I suppose to make sure I haven't escaped or been let free. I don't see how there's much chance of that, seeing how the Holistic Spawn themselves can't break free of these cells. Even so, she refuses to speak to me, and ignores anything I say. On rare occasions, other dwarves come down here to check on the Spawn. Sometimes they look at me, but it's not often any more than a glance.
I used to cry sometimes, after Fischer threw me in here, but that happens less now... I don't see that I'm getting out of here anytime soon. I'll probably be here until the fortress falls.
It's unfair, though... You try to save the fortress, and you wind up incarcerated. You save the lives of two people, and you wind up forgotten... sitting lifeless in a darkened corner like a doll forgotten by its owner... gathering dust, and hoping against hope that the end is coming soon.