The Attic's a Dungeon!?

June 13, 2011

Ripple sat on his bed, hunched over in the same position the Abbot had left him in, and listened. Their voices were low, and hard to make out over the thick beginning plops of rain.

“Natural causes my rudder, nothin’ natural about this yellow gunk.”

“Sure as hellgates I ain’t touchin’ him.”

“Aye, nor me. Somethin’ awful shrimpy about this, if ye ask me. I’ll be my mum’s aunt before I’d say that’s an allergic reaction. Could be contagious.”

“Right. I’m gonna go fetch the foxes. Nobeast cares a whit if they start droppin’.”

“Ye sure, Rigg? Not sure Skip’d approve o’ that idea, lettin’ them so far inside.”

“It’s us or them, matey. No need to go wakin’ Skip up for this. Back in a tick.”

A flash of blue filled the attic. The thunder was still too far off to be heard. Down on the grounds below, the last of the tables and streamers were being brought in. By now, everybeast would be tucking in to bed, except perhaps the kitchen staff, who would be tucking into leftovers.

Ripple had come to a decision. He slid off the bed and began shuffling about his little corner of the attic, methodically checking over each map pinned along the wall and straightening each card. If a pin was off-center, he’d unstick it and put it in properly. It needed to be done, and if he wasn’t going to be getting any sleep, now was the time to do it. His old toy shelf had been fixed by the otter crew earlier in the evening, and his bed had been cleaned and straightened by Sister Delores. When he was done with his maps, he would re-arrange his desk, and then the entire room would be nice and neat again and it would be so comfortable and cozy, it would be as if nobeast had died just on the other side of the wall of bookshelves.

Halfway through his dazed cleaning frenzy, he became aware of somebeast standing behind him. His neckfur prickled. He turned slowly.

It was Tamarack. In the light of his little candle, it was hard to make out her face. His imagination filled in the shadows.

“It’s not yer fault,” he said.

“You always said that. Never made it true.”

“It’s true this time.”

Tamarack stamped her footpaw.

“Cluny take you, Rip! I’m trying to apologize!”

Ripple turned back to his desk. He arranged the snapped lines of his model ship so they were like whiskers in his dibbunhood paintings, each the perfect distance from the other. So unlike real whiskers.

“Took ye long enough.”

Tamarack sighed.

“I am awful sorry, Rip. I tried to come see you after, but they wouldn’t…”

He fiddled with his cards, unsure what to say. Seasons of anger welled up in his throat. He wanted to spit it all out and gargle salt water, just get it over with!

I thought ye were a coward –

I thought ye hated me –

Thought I hated ye back –

Mostly hated myself, though –

D’ye like cards, ‘cos –

None of it felt right. Not the kind of right he knew was right.

“I forgive ye,” he said, and surprised himself when he realized he meant it. “I… I’m sorry I never came to visit either. When I could.”

“Well, that’s… that’s… I’ve missed you so much, Rip!”

Tamarack darted at him, her arms outstretched. There was no time to dodge. He teetered backwards as she slammed into him, but was saved by her arms around his back. Ripple tentatively raised a paw and patted her shoulder once or twice in return. Her fur and clothing were soaked through.

“I got so much to tell you about. Colm and Ida got married, and I been reading some right fancy pamphlets from Mr. Merritt, and Mr. Noel’s got this game called campball. I think you’d like it. I could show you how to play… after, uh… after we take care of Brother Raimun.”

She glanced back to where they could both hear the rustles of the other foxes moving the old mouse’s body. Ripple took the moment to disengage from her embrace.

“Rip, have you noticed anything strange going on in the Abbey? I don’t mean the murders, not the outside ones, least ways. I gave… I gave Brother Raimun something right afore he died. It was a pamphlet. Did you see anything like that? In a big brown envelope?”

“Um…” He blinked, reeling away to sit again on his bed. “I don’t remember… I think so, but the Abbot – ”

“Tam? Tam, come along, we’re going now.”

Colm poked his head around the dividing bookshelf. Ripple and Tamarack both jumped, as if caught in some act of treason. Even as Ripple’s shoulders relaxed, he could see the sheepish grin worm its way across Tamarack’s muzzle.

“We’ll talk more later, aye? Don’t worry. All you got to do is come outside. I’ll be waiting for you!”

“Bye…”

“So that was Ripple I saw… grown, hasn’t he?”

“Aye, and I think…”

After a trio of creaks, their voices faded down the stairs.

All was quiet for a few minutes. Ripple reached over and blindly plucked a shrimp from his snack bowl. He nibbled on it, not quite in the mood anymore.

Murders outside the abbey? As opposed to murders inside the abbey?

Just what in Hellgates was going on?


The abbey was entirely too quiet. The usual restless noises of parents chiding their offspring in distant dormitories were replaced by a chill silence. So deep within the walls, there was no rain or wind, only the snaps and snarls of muzzled thunder. Without windows to shine the heralding blue light, each one had Ripple jolting and twitching in the darkness, as if struck himself.

It was a miracle he didn’t drop his shrimp bowl before he could deliver it to the kitchen.

He did drop it after delivering it to the kitchen. He hadn’t been expecting anybeast to still be up, and the sight of the disturbed mouse scrubbing away at the feast’s crusty plates gave him a start. At the clattering sound, Andrew reached over the basin and grabbed a large, wicked knife, spun around, and shouted “Ha! … Ripple.”

“S-sorry! I was tryin’ to save ’em…”

“Save who?”

“The, um, the shrimp…”

They looked at the pink-orange curls scattered across the floor. Ripple began to get down on all fours. Andrew, paw trembling, put his knife down and helped.

“It’s alright. We’ll put them in the compost. Or the bait jar.”

Ripple blanched. The last time he’d put old food into the bait jar, he’d sworn off seafood for a month. It had lasted two days.

“Such a shame about poor Brother Raimun,” Andrew mumbled. “You found him, I heard?”

“I, um, I heard him… Mr… Brother Isidore found him first.”

Ripple dropped the shrimp he’d scooped up as Andrew’s paw gripped his wrist.

“What did he look like?”

“Wh…what?”

“Brother Raimun. When he died. Was there anything… unusual?”

“N-no? Father Abbot said it was natural. Allergies to eatin’ somethin’…”

“No scars? No… bite marks?”

Ripple relaxed. It was just this again.

“No, sir. Me an’ Brother Aloysius have been keepin’ the attic clear. Haven’t seen any Things since last time.”

Last time had been a season ago when Ripple, in a fit of disobedience, made a bet with himself that he could stay up all night while Aloysius was visiting his cousin, and had been pleasantly surprised to find Andrew more than willing to help. Believing that Ripple was going to need all the energy he could in order to hunt down one of the Things, he lent a large bowl of candied chestnuts and a cup of sugar to the cause, along with a firkin of strawberry fizz.

The resulting wild night had done nothing but to confirm to Andrew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Things existed, especially when Ripple tottered down in the morning, looking as though he’d been to Hellgates and back, and covered in their unholy blood… which had actually just been some ink he’d spilled on himself. He’d been all too happy to let Andrew keep the blackened hide of the slain beast as well. There had been absolute hellgates to pay when Aloysius had found where his roll of vellum had vanished to. Ripple had let Andrew pay it. It was one of the young otter’s few crimes he still couldn’t come clean about to this day, even if it had made the mouse look an absolute fool in front of the entire abbey.

Some beasts just took their games so seriously.

“They’re in here, you know. The Abbot’s locked them in with us. Oh, what fools! All those guests for the feast! The gates were opened too long! They must have slipped in. And now everyone is trapped…”

“Uh, well, they’ll be leavin’ tomorrow, won’t they? We’ll just make sure the Things leave as well.”

Andrew shook his head.

“That’s just the thing, Ripple! The Abbot, he came and gathered the guests and the elders, and I overheard it all. It’s not just us abbeybeasts being kept in now, it’s everyone! All the guests…”

Ripple rested the top of his head on the ground for a moment. When he raised it again, his face was set resolutely. He dropped his pawful of floorshrimp back into the bowl and listened with half an ear as Andrew went on about the Abbot’s new ruling.

He had to give the imaginative mouse credit: Andrew knew how to keep an audience. The dishes were all washed by the time Andrew decided to call it a night, leaving Ripple to totter alone back up to the attic, his head crawling with new, dark thoughts.

He climbed into his bed and stared at the star chart pinned to the ceiling. All around him, the scratching and keening of the Things echoed around the attic. He imagined them crawling over the stacks, mouths foaming with their venomous yellow saliva, or congealing in the rafters – blackness dripping down to slowly form complete bodies that cricked their joints as they stretched their claws for the first time. He imagined Brother Raimun caught in the corner, fending them off with nothing but a book, frozen by their wretched harbinger wails.

Whoo-whooooooo

He wished he had Foweller’s shovel.


“Skip… Dad.”

Ripple stood in the doorway in his pajamas, his blanket bunched up in his paw and dragging along behind him through the hallway, and a stuffed satchel over his shoulder. It wasn’t everything he wanted to save from the attic, but it was everything that he absolutely didn’t want to fall into anyone else’s paws in his absence.

“I can’t sleep…”

He fumbled in the dark until the lantern by the door flicked to life. The window flashed blue and rattled, but instead of feeling sharp and cold, now it simply added to the small room’s cozy charm.

He crept up to the bed and gave Skipper a shove, but this only resulted in a grunt and a waft of ale smell. Ripple took this as permission and climbed over onto the other side, dragging his blanket and satchel over Skipper’s stomach.

He set himself up, tucking the satchel against the wall and poking his tail through to the other side of his blanket. He gave his toes an experimental wriggle, stretching the webbing out to breathe. Then he rubbed his head into the spare pillow until he was lost in a valley of eiderdown and a deep, thrumming river ran under his sight.

This was not enough to wash away the horrors that now plagued his imagination. And his bee stings were prickling too much still.

Ripple sat up.

He stared at the window, trying to see through the globs of rain at the reflection beyond. All those little niggling feelings were coming up now, like little worms escaping the flooding grounds. The twisted, distorted room in the window felt more real than the abbey he’d been living in this past season.

“Dad… are ye still asleep?” Skipper was. Good. “Dad, I’m sorry. I lied earlier. About the book, an’… an’ Fowel never said anythin’ about mum. Don’t be mad at him. Please. I really like Fowel. I just wish ye could be as nice to my other friends as ye are to him. I know ye think Bludd an’ Virrel are bad influences on me, like Tam was, but… ye never stop to think, maybe I’m a good influence on them.

“An’… an’ I wish ye’d try harder. I know ye can do it. Ye don’t need Martin. Yer the Skipper. I don’t know what yer waitin’ for. But… I’ll help, aye? We’ll find Ruslen an’ the others together, maybe. I don’t know what good I’ll do, but I’m gonna try. I’m not a dibbun anymore.”

The only reply was a rattle of thunder, or Skipper’s snoring. Ripple sometimes couldn’t tell the difference.

He tried once more to sleep.


What felt like hours later, Ripple began rifling through Locria’s letters, still too restless. He’d poured through their last campaign, and was nearing the end.

“Was that your plan, Commander, or did your nosewipes of soldiers actually have a stray thought pass through their noggins while you were hiding behind the lines?”

Sergeant Locria put her paws on her hips and grinned at Eliwood.

“Well, you’ve caught me again… trapped like a rat in a hole. I’ve got nobeast left. I surrender.”

Ripple folded the letter away, smiling as he re-constructed his reply from memory. Eliwood stepping up to her, sword drawn, tip at her throat before slowly lowering, pausing at her belt, before he finally drops it and kneels in front of her, begging forgiveness for the lives lost.

‘And yet,’ his speech concluded – Ripple mouthed it to himself while he sought out the next letter in sequence – ‘I would march through a thousand more armies to reach the ground before your footpaws. I would shed the blood of kings to reach the borders of your country. And if I could commandeer the sea itself, I would tell it to part, that I may glimpse through the fog the distant shores of the land I know you to call home.’

Ripple spread out the next letter on his lap. His claw traced past the details of their casual correspondence, her suggestion of the next map to play, the barest details of her week abroad, to find their story.

Locria took Eliwood by the shoulders and lifted him back up to his full, regal height. Her eyes seared into his, looking for any trace of untruth. Sensing none, she smiled and beeped his nose with her own.

“Oh, Eliwood. If you want my paw in marriage, you simply had to ask.”

Locria hugged him tight and wept onto his shoulder, knowing his response.

Ripple put the letters back into the satchel and lay back on the bed.

‘But I can’t,’ he said to the darkened room. ‘I can’t, my dear, I can’t. Lord Granbelos marches against your father’s estate even as I speak. To turn on him now, abandon our cause – ‘

At that moment, Skipper chose to roll over and splay an arm across Ripple’s face, completely breaking his concentration. Ripple sighed and turned onto his side, shoving his father’s arm off. Skipper snorted and mumbled. Ripple closed his eyes and did his very best to dream of things he loved.

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