CASeries #2: LEGEND
Chapter 31 ♕ Oubliette
Valeriana quietly made her way through the corridors of the family manor, trying to make no noise as she continued. She stared in wonder at the grandness of the decorated walls, but since she already went to the king’s palace, she realized it didn’t come close to its opulence.
She took a left turn, knowing that particular direction led to north, but she came to a dead end instead. Valeriana made a noise of disappointment before going the way she came and venturing further towards the east.
“I’m really feeling nervous about breaking into someone’s home,” she told Iolani.
‘Is this your first time?’
‘Thou shalt get used to it.’
“I hope,” she murmured before speeding up into a jog. “Is there any sign I can use that it’s the dungeon?”
‘Dungeons are often sealed heavily, Valeriana. If not, they come as trapdoors of some sort.’
“Heavily sealed . . .” She looked around for the door that fitted the description Iolani gave. “Damn building. Why are there so many doors?”
‘This is a City Lord’s family manor. Its size is its protection itself.’
Valeriana allowed her eyes to search the room with a frustrated grunt, only to see one particular door ajar. A little bit on the curious side, she creeped towards it and slowly peeked inside. She took in the sight of bricked walls with poor lighting in exception for the torches.
“Hey, Iolani. Do you think this way leads to the dungeon?” she asked.
‘Perhaps so, I’m not entirely sure. Why do we not check it to see for ourselves?’
The girl nervously made her way inside, leaving the door as it was since she was afraid it would close after she entered. The air inside was thick and had a disgusting scent, not to mention there were cobwebs hanging by the corners. Valeriana grimaced as she made her way further into the room, only to be cornered at a dead end.
“It’s another dead end,” she told Iolani.
‘I can see that.’ Replied Tamara’s familiar.
Her voice rang throughout the claustrophobic space. She was about to put it in her ‘failed’ list when several voices called out from below, making her shriek in shock. Her reaction had been understandable for Iolani as the place they entered was creepy enough to seem haunted. Even so, the bird couldn’t help but peck Valeriana on the head with her beak to scold her.
“Ow.” She winced. “Fine, I’m sorry.”
“Is someone out there?” A man’s voice asked. “Please let us out!”
A couple more pleas joined in.
Valeriana snatched the nearest torch from the wall to illuminate her surroundings further. She brought it down, lightning the area around the floor to see that she was standing on top of a square spot on the floor filled with rectangles. A hissing rat which the light managed to reach cowered from the exposure and scampered away noisily with small squeaks. Valeriana sighed from the warmth that the fire provided before getting to work. There were handles attached to different spots near the edges, so she knelt to examine it further.
She knocked on it. The sound was hollow, indicating a space within—or under.
‘It’s an oubliette.’ Said Iolani in realization.
‘An oubliette.’ The bird repeated. ‘A prison that can only be opened from the top.’
Valeriana turned her attention back to her the current dilemma. “Who’s there?”
“Head butler of Loquin household and servants.” Answered an elderly voice. “I beg you, stranger, to let us out.”
“Um . . . I’ll try. How do I open this thing?”
“I’m sure you can see the different rectangles inside the square.”
“First, pull the handle from the very middle.”
“O . . . kay.” She got to work and obeyed his words.
She clasped her hands around the handle in the middle and pulled it with all her might. It weighed heavy, but it slowly gave into the force she put in and steadily stood free from the ground. She could hear the cheering of people from below.
‘Careful now, lheuim ansur.’
“Now, pull the remaining two as you please.”
She pulled the remaining two. In comparison to the first who stood in a vertical way, the remaining two were horizontal. They framed the hole, which was covered in bars.
Valeriana looked down. “What next?”
A man with a thick, silver beard replied, “You see the first one you pulled up? On its sides, there are spaces which you can pull. Pull them down, they shall open the bars.”
The girl obeyed, searching the sides of the first one she pulled. There was a finger-sized hole decorating it. She yanked it loose, only to be confronted by some sort of trigger. She dragged it down until it reached the floor, revealing a network of metal that formed a pattern of flexible diamonds. The other side was similar. Simultaneous to her actions, the bars slowly retreated.
When it was done, it revealed the shape of a semi-circle.
“What sort of lunatic did this kind of complicated door?” she asked herself, feeling somewhat tired as she looked at her work.
“I’m sorry, madame. Just one more step.”
“Continuing from where you last stopped, now that you have the sides open, you should be able to pull it again and hold it against the floor.”
Releasing a deep sigh, she placed both hands on the edges before pulling it towards her direction. The rock slowly began give in to her force once again before firmly setting itself on the floor as though asleep.
A ladder then appeared as a result, giving the prisoners from below the chance to finally escape.
Valeriana wiped a sweat from her brow but was relieved from the cheering voices below. Moments later, the elderly man’s head poked through the hole. The girl went forward to receive his hand and help him on his way out.
“Thank you, my dear.” He arranged his spectacles smartly before pulling out a pocket watch that was chained to his breast pocket.
Valeriana raised her brow as she heard the brief ticking of clock before it was covered up by a sharp click. The old man turned to her with a grateful nod, his expression serious. He had spent quite some time down in the oubliette—as Iolani called it—that his stereotypical suit with tailcoats was stained with specks of dirt, not to mention his appearance was very messy. He had grey hair with sterling grey eyes that held the wisdom of age.
“May I know your name?”
“I see.” He nodded. “My name is Marcweller Gustav Fletcher.”
“Nice to meet you, uh . . . Mar—sir.” She wanted to say his name, but it was a bit hard for her and a bit mouthful that she opted for an alternative to address him with. Well, her name was mouthful too, but it was easier.
“You can call me Marcy,” he said. “My, I have spent quite some time in that stinky, disgusting dungeon that I have forgotten what light looks like.”
People started to slowly come up and Marcy moved to help them.
“How long have you all been down there?” Valeriana asked.
“Approximately twenty-nine days, four hours, and sixteen minutes,” he said.
“O . . . kay.”
“Why? Is it because of that demon?”
“Ah,” he stiffened slightly, his eyes widening briefly before he breathed out a sigh. “Perhaps he is called that now.”
A chubby woman dressed in a simple working dress and another man who wore an attire strikingly similar to that of a chef’s came out of the hole next. They had a hard time trying to pull themselves to the surface, so Valeriana and Marcy moved to help them.
“Nice to meet you,” said the woman as she reached out to shake Valeriana’s hand. “The name’s Hope, the head maid.”
“And I’m Despair.” The other one introduced. “I’m the chef.”
“Just kidding. It’s actually Vincent.” The chef jokingly added.
The girl’s lips turned up at that. “Valeriana,” she said.
“Is that your familiar?” He gestured towards the bird.
“No. Just a friend.”
“A Celeste, then?” asked Marcy as he started dusting off his sleeves.
“Not quite.” She shook her head. “But I’m here with a few others to help retake the city.”
They all exchanged glances before looking at Valeriana questioningly, in exception for Marcy. Then, their faces turned grave and solemn.
“Are you a member of the rebellion?” Hope asked, flashing her a suspicious glare.
The girl’s brows furrowed before she shook her head in refusal. “No.”
“Then who are you? A band of vigilantes?”
“No,” she answered. “I’m a student at the academy. I’m here with the Celestial Twelve.”
That seemed to satisfy them, but they looked somewhat shocked by her statement. Valeriana shook her head and dismissed the topic, deciding to move fast just in case the demon already found out about their strategy.
“Anyhow, I have to get going.” She turned towards the door and slipped the torch back in place. “Do you know where the dungeon is? Some of my friends are being held as prisoners there. I need to go and get them.”
Marcy turned to the other two. “You know what you have to do. Get out of the mansion and inform the citizens about the situation within the manor. I shall be guiding Miss Valeriana towards the dungeon.”
“Will you be alright, Marcy?”
“Yes, I will be. Now go.”
Hope and Vincent passed by Valeriana in a slightly hurried pace. They gave her a grateful look, whispering their ‘thanks’ to her before disappearing. Marcy stepped ahead of her and gestured towards the door.
Valeriana nodded, somewhat reluctant. She went out first and he followed.
“I do hope you will not hurt milady.” Marcy told her as he stirred her towards the way she came. “She is but an innocent child. Despite her attitude, she’s very pure at heart.”
She figured he must’ve been talking about that girl named Asthore. The demon also referred to her the same way when she was sneaking into the manor.
“We’re just here to settle things,” she told him. “But I cannot guarantee anything. I will tell the others to try and not hurt her.”
“And the man you call a demon.” He stopped. “I do not know what has pushed him to become one.”
“Why?” Valeriana asked. “Do you know him?”
“I do remember him a few years ago, but he disappeared so suddenly. I overheard my master saying that he was thrown out of the city into a heavy blizzard.” Marcy’s eyes shined with a hint of tears. “Lord Caleb could be cruel sometimes, but he was doing it for his daughter’s welfare. He thought he was doing the right thing.”
“Lady Asthore and Faolan, as he calls himself now, were once a wonderful tandem. His real name is Tod, a mere street child who the lady has once saved from the hands of slave traders. But, of course, Lady Asthore was not one to accept nothing in return. She demanded his friendship.” He shook his head. “Though milady is a selfish soul, it is only from the lack of affection from her father. Yet, when Lord Caleb knew of it, he demanded the two children to never meet again.”
“Why would he do that? They were only friends, right?”
“He said that Tod was nothing more than a street child, not at all worthy of friendship. However, knowing milord, he had a deeper reason. Lady Asthore was only too young that time to truly comprehend the truth.”
“They did not stop. The lady has learned to rebel and proceeds to do as she wishes. Until such time that Lord Caleb has had enough and demanded for the child to be thrown out of the city. There was a heavy blizzard that time and for sure the boy has died. Yet, when the area was scouted, the boy was not found.”
Valeriana was silent as she gazed at the man’s face.
“Years later, after Lord Caleb died, he reappeared, now a young man . . .” He breathed out as he looked down in disappointment. “And a demon.” He paused. “I still remember the day when the black clouds covered the sky and black snow dotted the grounds. Winds battered the houses and sent the city in turmoil. Then he came. He offered milady the chance to stop the storm, if she would agree to have him by her side. He may have told her a different name and successfully fooled her, but he cannot fool me.”
“He came back.”
“He did.” Marcy nodded. “And although milady has not realized it yet, I am sure he is waiting anxiously for that time.”
“But why a demon?”
“I do not know as well.” He then gave Valeriana a look. “Now, shouldn’t we be making our way towards the dungeon?”
“I guess we should.”