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 1 
 on: May 24, 2017, 04:44:59 AM 
Started by cairn destop - Last post by cairn destop
Plezwerk dashed across the road, his boots leaving deep impressions in the snow.  Heavy snowflakes fell from the night sky driven by a fierce wind.  That wind lifted the hood of his winter jacket sending the snow down his back.  The fur on his face turned wet as  icy crystals lashed him. 

He put on a burst of speed determined to escape this storm.  Plezwerk jumped from the path to the middle step and allowed his momentum to carry him onto the inn's porch.  Thanks to the porch roof, the snow and ice no longer pelted him.  He scraped the snow off his boots, removed his winter jacket, and gave it a flick of his wrist.  With much of the snow removed, he pushed through the doors and into the dry warmth of the inn.

A step to his left brought Plezwerk to a stool where he removed his boots.  He crossed the hall to a closet guarded by a young porcupine.  He exchanged his wet coat and boots for a colored token and a pair of soft slippers.  In an exaggerated motion, he looked left, than right, and left again.  Plezwerk placed a piece of hard candy on the counter and the child popped it into his mouth.

What a change from my first visit.  The Common Room stood vacant of guests, only the bartender, a serving girl, and several members of the porcupine clan occupied the place.  Not surprising considering both the season and the weather.  If some desperate traveler joined them, he would double the number of guest staying at the inn this night.

Activity at the inn turned frantic with the first winter storm.  One day of snow left the ground looking like a multicolored drop cloth splattered with patches of white.  All porcupines not needed for their guests attended to the last of their crops, gleaning whatever could be stored.  Guests snatched supplies and took to the road, determined to reach home before the next storm.

The second storm left a thin blanket of snow that disappeared after a week of sunlight.  While this snow melted, the last scheduled raft tied up to the dock.  Several ringtails mentioned hard freezes that covered the lakes with a thin layer of ice at night, which explained their late arrival.  The crew offloaded passengers and moved several crates to the appropriate warehouse.  Instead of the usual relaxing overnight stay, the crew loaded the raft with the last of their consigned cargo and turned homeward within the hour.

Plezwerk didn't think this third storm's snowfall would melt before spring, it fell that heavy.  Day and night turned into a grey void filled with snowflakes.  When the storm started, the snowflakes were marvels to enjoy.  On day four the winter storm turned ugly.  A wind drove the snow and dainty snowflakes turning them into icy pellets.  That was almost a full week ago and the blizzard continued.  Snow accumulated and buried the world he remembered.

Being the sole guest had its advantages.  The serving girls knew his preferences and didn't need to visit his table.  He also had the opportunity to talk with his hosts.  These porcupines knew much of the Known Lands and did not mind sharing such information with their guest.

Morph tribes had individual cultures and customs.  Dogs, like his tribe, had a hereditary leader.  Wolves engaged in ritualistic combat to determine leadership.  Bruins conducted a wrestling contest between the eight largest males.  Rats selected their leaders through a contest of riddles. 

Porcupines had a corporate structure.  The leader of any inn was the innkeeper.  He selected officers to run general operations, such as the stores, housekeeping, procurement, and farming.  All the other porcupines were workers assigned to whichever officer needed help.  When necessary, the innkeepers elected a leader of their clan.  The selected porcupine held the title of chairman, or in this case, chairwoman.  As the clan's absolute leader, she had the final say on any tribal matter and was known to all morphs as the Last Arbitrator.

Chairwoman Goldenspike entered the Common Room.  Her fur resembled wheat in color, though up close it had an almost transparent look due to her advanced age.  She now used a cane as the recent cold weather made her joints sore.  Every porcupine within the room stood and gave a modest head bob in her direction.  A wave of her paw and all returned to whatever interested them before her arrival.

Goldenspike hobbled across the room, her destination obvious.  Plezwerk moved to the back of his selected booth, which gave the old lady her choice of sides.  She took the one to his right, placing her cane on the bench behind her.  Neither spoke as she arranged her quills.  A grunt or two sounded as she made herself comfortable.  A paw in the air and two raised fingers sent the serving girl scurrying.  Two mugs appeared on their table.

"Cider with cinnamon warms the body and calms the soul, child.  Lockvor paid good coin to see that all your needs were met this winter.  Word has come to me that you are not happy and I am here to resolve any problem," she said.

"My time here has not earned me the right to a name?"

"Forgive me, child . . . Plezwerk.  As tribe leader, all within my clan are called child, no disrespect intended.  I honor you with that word but understand the need for what is yours."

Plezwerk sipped his cider and complimented her choice of beverage.  He voiced his pleasure at both her company and the hospitality of the Inn.  Her expression remained neutral.

"I am deeper into winter than any here and it gives me sight to see the unseen and ears for what is not spoken."  Goldenspike drained her mug.  "Speak.  Consider that a polite request."

"Failure, all that I touch turns to failure."  Plezwerk stared into his tankard.

"Than yours is the most glorious of failures.  You are a rock cast into a still pond, there and gone.  Let me show you the ripples your failures have caused."  Her laughter came across as genuine and not the condescending one Plezwerk anticipated.  "I must bring another to our table before I continue."

A quick wave of her paw had the bartender rush to the booth.  He than darted into the kitchen and another female appeared.  She hastened to their table.  Goldenspike introduced Sharpie and ordered her to join them.  Plezwerk didn't mind her presence.  Since his return to the inn, he considered her one of his closest friends among the porcupines.

Once the girl sat, Goldenspike spoke of the rats.  Her words dashed his hopes.  They had no intention of taking him to either dig site come spring.  Their generosity had another purpose, the creation of an obligation.  They desired a look at the cavern Plezwerk's clan used during the winter.  If they couldn't gain access, the rats would consider returning with his books and the maps inside a treasure beyond measure.

His influence did not stop there.  The squirrel tribe heard of him and many of the ladies intended a sexual partnership without obligations.  As an outsider, any offspring added value to their tribe.  The squirrel leaders wanted Plezwerk to take them to his former tribe.  If they convinced a lost tribe to return to these lands, it increased their influence among other morphs.  Even if they failed, having a tribe in the Northern Wastelands increased the perceived power, influence, and reach of their tribe.

Prince, leader of the dog tribe feared what he represented.  Until Plezwerk's arrival, they alone guarded the sole route between the Known Lands and the Northern Wastelands.  Goldenspike spoke of his suspected mental state and how she sought assurances from the most influential lady of his court, Annabelle.  Even she wondered how far Prince might go if this tunnel granted free access to the Wastelands.  If it became common knowledge that these lands supported crops, Prince might see a mass migration through a route he didn't control.

Other tribes learned about the possible existence of kin beyond their border.  Tensions between some tribes, such as the elk and boars, might escalate if perceived wrongs in these new lands became fodder for future conflicts.  Ferret leaders consulted the Builder's Orb in secret meetings, researching how to repair and maintain a tunnel.  Rumors had them investigating the construction of fortifications at either end.  Unsubstantiated stories said the High Priestess Elara or her sister Alamma entertained the idea of controlling the tunnel.

Even the most minor of tribes felt his ripples.  Goldenspike explained how all believed the lands east of the road poisoned.  Legends said such lands supported plant life but crops grown there proved poisonous to any morph during the Dark Times.  None challenged that perception until his presence disproved those stories.  In less than a year, the known world more than doubled in size.  So much unclaimed lands must lead to conflicts and inevitable bloodshed.

"Come spring, every tribe will be seeking a stake in these new lands," said Goldenspike.  "Our clan intends scouting these new territories and building at least three travel lodges and a new haven inn with the hope of maintaining peace.  I intend naming Sharpie our clan's fourth Haven Innkeeper.  Until construction is finished, consider Sharpie your concubine."

"I will not accept such an abomination," shouted a distressed Plezwerk.

"Her relationship is not sexual, but she must know you better than a mate.  You need an advisor who understands you better than yourself.  She shall act as the liaison other morphs can trust.  My blessing will give her that power with all who migrate to these new lands.  She must earn both the respect and trust of those already residing there when she mediates any dispute."

Goldenspike took her leave.  She walked across the Common room and left without a backward glance.  Sharpie's expression said she still felt the initial shock over her new status.   Neither spoke for several moments, each lost in their own thoughts.  The lady porcupine placed her paw on his arm, demanding his attention. 

"We are about to change what was into what can be.  Let's make it something wondrous."

 2 
 on: May 24, 2017, 04:43:43 AM 
Started by cairn destop - Last post by cairn destop
Today, 5/24/17, marks the final installment to the story.  I will continue to answer any and all questions posed.  A special thanks to all who followed and to any who have read my tale.

 3 
 on: May 22, 2017, 05:06:27 AM 
Started by cairn destop - Last post by cairn destop
Anticipation trumped a restful night.  The four attempted to sleep but the thought of some human marvel had them tossing about in their bedrolls.  The one morph benefitting from such expectations was whoever had guard duty.  The night dragged on for what seemed an eternity.  Dawn didn't help.  Each of them jumped up eager to finish the morning meal.

Since Plezwerk knew the location of the oddity, he lead.  With expectations running high, none wanted to be left behind on this first day.  A short walk through the trees brought them to the bushes.  From ground level, none noticed the uniformity of the plants nor the orderly rows and files. 

If not for his scouting the area yesterday from a higher vantage point, the others would walk by these bushes never realizing they might hide a treasure.  Lockvor accepted the squirrel's report and proceeded to measure the first bush.  While the two rats performed their preliminary survey, Plezwerk and Grizzon attacked one corner of the plant.

It took a good hour before either noticed any progress.  The plant turned out to be more clinging vine than bush.  The thing held onto whatever it covered with a tenaciousness that defied the short blades they used.  Grizzon wanted an ax while Plezwerk preferred a machete.  The expedition's leader turned both of them down, insisting on the smaller paw held blades.  He wanted the structure preserved.

By the time the rats finished their exterior measurements, the others cleared an area that came up to their knees.  Both workers needed a rest but pointed at their discovery.  One corner consisted of some hard rock that withstood all these seasons since the time of humans.  A white shell rested atop this rock, which laid hidden beneath the vines.  Just a paw's width of this shell had been exposed but it appeared undamaged by either time, the weather, or these clinging plant.

"Grizzon, we will need the wagon and the tools we loaded.  The three of us will find a way to get the tools here.  Plezwerk, you keep clearing this side of the building."

Plezwerk grumbled at the assignment but admitted he wanted to clear this building first.  Whatever these plants were, they existed no other place.  He saw many species of clinging plants in the forest back home, at the inn, and at the excavation site, but none held onto their support with such tenacity.  These plants should have conquered the entire forest, maybe the known world, but they extended no further than the immediate area. 

His knife probed for any space between the structure and the plant.  Once he found such an opening, he switched to a short, serrated blade.  It still galled him using tools intended for a paw when he wanted something bigger but those tools were in the wagon.  Plezwerk also missed Grizzon's strength.  Pulling the severed piece took great strength, which he didn't have.  His mind fixated on the task and the unexpected voice jarred him.

"Didn't mean to scare you, but we're back and with better tools." said Lockvor.

Now the four attacked the plant as a team.  Calator crawled under the structure with a lamp and a spear in case any non-morph animal inhabited the underside.  Lockvor attacked the base of the plant with a shovel seeking any root system.  Plezwerk used a saw and machete to slice through the harden vines.  Grizzon yanked the loosened vine from its base and dragged it to the clearing.

The midday meal remained a quiet event.  The rush of excitement from their initial discovery faltered as the work intensified.  The plant had a root system like a living curtain.  Anywhere the vine touched the ground it anchored itself.  Lockvor worked in a trench that came up to his waist in order to get below these roots and still they held with a tenacious grip.

"You're right about one think Plezwerk," Lockvor said.  "These plants do cover a human building.  My preliminary findings would support more structures, but there are gaps in the layout.  Some must be missing, perhaps destroyed over the years."

"How do you know some are gone," asked Plezwerk.

"Humans prefer order and uniformity.  As I anticipated, each plant, every open space, and all external dimensions match.  You were right when you said nothing in nature is that organized.  When we find the door, we will have a base line for locating other human constructs in future explorations."

"Don't you mean if we find the door?"  Plezwerk wondered about the reasoning behind the rat's logic.

"We have an excellent chance since humans place doors on the shortest sides of a small structure like this one.  That short extension near the middle should be a porch, which is what humans used to enter elevated structures like this one.  The other end has no such protrusion.  Like I said, our makers were highly regimented in their actions.  They preferred uniformity."

Such confidence inspired the others.  Until the sun settled low enough that all laid in shadow, they worked at clearing the one side.  Lockvor expressed elation when they uncovered a door near the middle of the short side.  His expectation that a porch extended under the structure's door proved correct.  Like the building itself, the landing consisted of the same material, which made removing the vines difficult. 

Once they cleared the landing, the four morphs could approach the last barrier standing between them and whatever marvels existed within.  Three of them wanted to force the entryway open and examine the interior in spite of the growing darkness.  Lockvor objected.  He expressed caution and insisted they clear the one wall before considering the interior.  With their goal in sight and a firm commitment to breaching the door, all attacked the vines until the night forced them to withdraw.

If the prior night proved restless, this one made that seem like hibernation.  The sun's first rays were yet to show and the explorers stood ready.  Food they consumed because they needed their strength, though all resented the time lost.  They marched off, confident that today they would discover some great marvel from the time of their Makers.

Their first discovery came when they reached the pile of discarded vines.  In less than one day, the plant remnants resembled a forest in late autumn.  Leaves displayed shades of gold and red while the vines turned brown.  Both were dried out and brittle to the touch.  A wayward spark from their lantern turned the mulch pile into instant cinders.

"This explains why the plant hasn't spread.  They must need something from the actual building to survive.  Once separated, it dies."  Calator strutted when none contradicted his observation.

"Think that amazing?  Here's another observation.  These plants do not consume whatever element they need, otherwise both would no longer exist," said Plezwerk.

A second revelation didn't come as a pleasant one.  In the course of the one night, several vines produced trailers that extended down the side they cleared yesterday.  Over three paw's width from every edge had a green covering.  If the plant expanded at this rate unchecked, the cleared surface would be hidden within a month.  Fortunately, the newer vines lacked the toughness of the established growth and came off with ease.

"It's time we force that door open."  Lockvor rubbed his paws together in anticipation.

Forcing the door open proved anticlimactic.  A simple twist of the bulb freed it.  Grizzon applied his strength and with a loud protest, pulled the door open.  Even his exceptional power couldn't overcome a millennium of rust.   Still, it was enough that any one of them could squeeze themselves inside.  All wanted to rush inside, but Lockvor called them back.  In the end, weight determined who entered the building while those outside gawked at the interior.

Calator weighed less than any of them.  It made him the luck morph who got to explore the interior.  If the young rat thought he need do nothing more than stroll inside, he was mistaken.  While Plezwerk and the bruin scanned the interior, their leader established the rules.  His continual emphasis regarding the inherent dangers of entering an unexplored ancient place finally penetrated the young rat's confidence.

The rat used two wide wooden pallets to distribute his weight over an untested floor.  He moved across one, relocated the second, and repeated the process until he reached the nearest item in the room.  Along one wall, a series of metal bars stood in formation.  The structure supported two similar platforms, one above the other.  Calator sketched the object and made his measurements, being careful not to touch the object.

The rat found no way of scaling the metal piping to the upper platform.  This puzzled the rat and after shouting instructions or suggestions back and forth, came up with a possible means of ascending it.  The rat placed his foot on the lower platform intending to use the extra height as leverage to gain the top.  As soon as he transferred his weight to the metal pipes, it collapsed. 

Lockvor had the younger rat toss a pipe to him.  A poor toss had Calator repeating the process.  Those errant pipes shattered like raw eggs on a kitchen floor but persistence paid off when Lockvor caught one that stayed intact.  Time and the elements may not have affected the exterior but it did change everything inside it.  The metal had changed into brittle rust.  Calator confirmed the deteriorated condition of the remaining pipes and they abandoned any further examination of the other metal structures.

Two metal boxes sat at the interior end of these pipe platforms.  Lockvor decided they would remove one and examine its contents.  A tossed rope and a quick knot on the handle was all it took.  When Grizzon pulled, the handle snapped off the box.  So much for the easy way.

Their second attempt took much longer.  An incline plane placed at one end and the entire box secured by the rope moved it far enough that Calator could place a marble under it.  He guided the box to the doorway while the others maintained tension on the rope.  The rat placed a second marble under the box before the first one rolled free.  By making certain at least one marble rested under the box, he could guide it towards the doorway. 

Everyone celebrated the extraction of the chest.  First thing done was sketching and measuring the box.  Thanks to the daylight, they made out the faded writing stenciled across the lid, "US Footlocker."  Despite Lockvor's caution, lifting the clasp removed the lid and the box shattered. 

"That lid doesn't make sense.  A letter must be missing.  It must have read 'Use Footlocker," Plezwerk speculated.

They found rotting cloth within the box.  Even the light summer breeze shredded the ancient material.  Lockvor poked at the cloth, sifting through the debris.  His efforts revealed a pair of shoes still intact and standing upright.  Unlike their open footwear, this one resembled foul weather gear as it seemed designed to fully enclose the foot.  Instead of a solid look like their boots, the humans appeared to secure them via thin ropes.  When Lockvor attempted to move one boot, the upper portion on both boots crumbled away, leaving two soles made of some unknown material intact. Lockvor moved these aside.

Lockvor continued sifting through the trash the box held.  At the very bottom, they found a metallic stick with strange markings on either edge.  Lockvor cried at the sight.  With a gentle push, he freed it.  It sat flat on the porch, which made the older rat cry even harder.  He took a deep breath and lifted the object.  It did not break.

"A human measuring stick, and it isn't warped!  This will be the greatest discovery since we first found that human city." 

Lockvor sounded so excited, though none understood why.  No doubt the puzzled expressions jolted the old rat back to the present.  He placed the measuring stick in a box half filled with sand.  Than he filled the box with more sand.  Satisfied that his discovery would suffer no damage during transport, he explained his elation.

"We have a catalogue of human measurements but no accurate means of converting from the scales our Makers used and what morphs have developed since the Dark times,"  Lockvor said.  "Every measuring stick found has been warped or damaged.  Those have been good enough for estimates but useless to anyone who is trying to establish an accurate conversion.  Worse yet, humans used two measurements for the same thing, which is most confusing.  This stick has both scales intact, another incredible find."

"Wonder what we will find tomorrow,"  said Plezwerk.

"Nothing.  Grizzon, close that door.  Tomorrow we return to the dig site."

"Why?  We have over a dozen human structures to explore.  Do you really want to abandon this site?"

Lockvor's voice reminded him of an instructor with a dense student.  "You spent the spring learning how to travel through unexplored territory without becoming lost.  We left the dig on the first day of summer and agreed to return with the first full moon of autumn.  Today is day sixty of our trip.  If we leave now, we might get back by that time if the wagon doesn't break down during our first week.  Not to worry, this place isn't going anywhere."

 4 
 on: May 19, 2017, 04:39:09 AM 
Started by cairn destop - Last post by cairn destop
Plezwerk scaled the highest tree within sight of their campsite, just like he did every morning since they left Eugene Oregon.  For the time it took him to scale the forest sentinel, he experienced a sense of rejuvenation, as if he rediscovered a lost part of himself.  The texture of bark against his bare feet, the smell of running sap, and the rustle of leaves that surrounded him brought back memories of his youth. 

Two-thirds of the way up, he reached the highest branch that supported his weight.  This is when he questioned the wisdom of his Makers.  In the time before humans augmented squirrels, they scampered to the highest branch without fear.  Squirrels gained size, weight, and intelligence without loosing their bond with the forest.  Learning to integrate these gifts destroyed many of their kind before their creators disappeared.  Today, such things are learned in the folly of childhood and tempered with experience.  Regardless of the changes, squirrels loved their bond with living wood.

His feet found purchase on the limb as he shuffled further from the trunk.  A morning breeze made the branch sway.   When their expedition started, his bouncing at the end of a slim branch had his companions worrying  about him taking foolish chances.  After the first week, none doubted his innate sense of balance.  Without any conscience thought, Plezwerk's stance adjusted to compensate.  He stood far enough out that his chest cleared the nearby foliage.

Once the sun cleared the horizon, he checked the area for landmarks.  Instead of a simple compass, he used something Lockvor called an orienteering compass.  He sighted through the two slits as he lined up first one, than a second landmark.  Experience had him check the readings three times for accuracy.  Plezwerk let the compass fall to the end of his neck lanyard as he retrieved a writing stick and paper. 

Such recordings kept track of their progress but presented them with a new set of problems.  Their landmarks became too hard locating after the first week.  Plezwerk learned how to draw a picture of two other mountains along their course.  With these new reference points, their group proceeded.  Satisfied with his numbers, he returned to his anxious companions.

A flick of the wrist sent the notebook flying across the campground to Lockvor, who caught it.  He than handed the compass to Calator who pulled out a copy of the original maps.  The two rats consulted the notebook and triangulated their location.  Satisfied with the readings, they calculated their progress.

Lockvor approached the group gathered around the campfire.  "We're making excellent progress.  If I'm reading the human scale right, we covered between ten and fifteen miles yesterday.  At our current speed, we should reach the outskirts of this military base in another two or three hours.  I'll need a third reference point before leaving for our return trip once we reach our destination."

Their bruin companion transferred the cooked food to each morph's plate.  "Our second axle broke yesterday and our spare wheel cannot take too much more abuse.  The wagon holds one more axle.  Break that and we have to abandon the wagon.  Our progress will slow to a crawl if we must walk with these backpacks."

"The wagon is a luxury I anticipated abandoning when we reached the human base.  If it last long enough to get us even partway home, consider it a bonus," said a bored Lockvor.

Calator checked the compass, looking through the two slots.  He retrieved their axe and marched up to the tree Plezwerk climbed that morning.  Two quick chops removed a strip of bark and another two chops left two lines in the tree's trunk.  With everything packed, the four of them left camp along the course Calator believed would take them in the right direction. 

Travel proved no easier than the prior days.  The compass provided the course but the forest seldom cooperated with their party.  Trees required circumnavigation as those guiding the wagon hunted for a level path wide enough to accommodate the wagon.  Today, Calator kept to the designated course while the others struggled to go where he led. 

An open field didn't mean easy traveling or a swift passage.  They remained on course but the field often had unexpected hazards.  Several days earlier an open field defied them.  An overlooked rock shattered a wheel.  The stress of the prior days and what all thought an inconsequential rut cracked an axle shaft.  It turned what all though would be an hour's walk into an overnight stay.

Once more an open field stretched before them.  On the other side, another forest beckoned.  But this wide a field offered them a chance to see the nearby mountains.  The rats worked with the compass for several moments before an elated Lockvor made his announcement.

"The forest across this glade is within the human military base.  We have reached our destination.  No more traveling."

Crossing an open field required caution or one wandered to the left or right.  Grizzon, their bruin companion, relayed signals to Calator that kept him on course.  A hundred paces out and Plezwerk passed the rat a long pole.  The rat drove a stake into the ground, removed the stake, and inserted the long pole into the hole.  Now they had a reference point high enough to see above the tall grass.  Two such poles in alignment indicated a straight line.  They continued driving poles into the ground every hundred paces until both reached the first tree.

"You go back to the others," Plezwerk said.  "Lockvor said we will be staying here.  I want an opportunity to do a quick scan before he comes.  Maybe I can find a good place for camping."

"What you mean is you want to find something first.  Don't deny it; I'd do the same thing if I had the chance."

Plezwerk didn't contradict the rat.  His friend read his intent the second he volunteered to carry the poles, a task usually given to Grizzon.  The others would take more than an hour crossing the field as they guided the cart past any hazards the two of them missed.  So much time and yet so little too.

His paw caressed the tree like a lover with his intended.  A gentle touch revealed so much to him.  The forest where his friends stood showed evidence of old growth with most of the trees over a hundred winters old.  A walk along this forest edge confirmed what his paw told him, none of these trees passed that mark.  Most still had more than three decades to go before hitting that milestone.

No huge stumps and no decaying trunks taller than him lying in sight.  That told him the lack of ancient trees wasn't due to fire or torrential rains.  Those fallen trees he did find were no older than those standing.  Something kept the trees from establishing a sufficient base to withstand whatever passed for normal winter weather. 

He discarded his sandals and climbed.  Plezwerk jumped from one tree to another as he probed the surrounding area.  His sudden weight had many of the trees sway more than anticipated.  He shortened his jumps.  By the time his companions summoned him, he explored the immediate area but not much more. 

"Good news," Plezwerk said.  "Something in the soil stops the trees from reaching the century mark.  None of these trees have a deep root system.  It might have something to do with what I found about a hundred yards towards the mountains.  There are a number of huge bushes I've never seen before that are half the height of these trees."

"What makes high bushes such good news?"  Though Lockvor tried to hide it, he too must be curious what made a new plant worth mentioning.

"The bushes are in straight rows and all appear to be the same dimension.  This is despite the fact that there is no evidence of somebody tending to them.  You know of anything in nature that is so uniform?"

 5 
 on: May 17, 2017, 07:39:28 AM 
Started by cairn destop - Last post by Kaijugod
Great story so far. Just a heads up I'll be posting the next chapter of my story very soon.

 6 
 on: May 17, 2017, 06:44:08 AM 
Started by cairn destop - Last post by cairn destop
"I have no intention of reneging on our agreement.  Select a member of your tribe to protect this book and you may hold it until hibernation.  It goes to our tribe at that time.  Any bruin from your tribe has unlimited free access to this book but we safeguard it.  I know we must divulge any secrets we learn from this specific book, a clause that binds your tribe if you discover something first.  That too is per our treaty."

The four bruins stood as one, each dusting themselves off after their undignified collapse.  Their spokesman took possession of the book in spite of the many protests voiced by the other staff members.  Lockvor demanded silence and once restored, apologized for his colleague's comments.  The bruins withdrew.

Lockvor faced the collective wrath of his staff.  "We break a treaty negotiated by the porcupines and our tribe can never expect another morph to trust our word.  We will stand alone and without protection.  Against another tribe we might prevail, but an endless series of wars will destroy everything we have achieved since the Dark Times.  All our discoveries, destroyed forever.  Even a treasure as priceless as that book cannot justify a genocidal war.  I'll not have it!"

Every member of the staff sat, their heads bowed.  The resulting silence settled on all like a wet woolen blanket.  None spoke.  Plezwerk reached into his backpack and withdrew one of the ancient book of maps.

"Your Chief Digger asked what the inside pocket held.  First time I cracked that shell, I broke it.  Second one, I was more careful.  Take it.  I give it to you as a gift; perhaps you can translate the lettering 'mac orb pc.'  It baffles me as I cannot think what the missing letters might be.  Maybe it's an unknown human language."

Plezwerk passed the object to the first rat.  As he said, one side was all white with faded lettering.  Only the strange letters he read remained visible.  One rat extracted a strange glass that fit to his eye and extended out the length of three fingers.  He touched it to the white side and slid it around for several moments before he relinquished the large disk.  A few rats examined the shiny silvery side while the stove's fire turned the surface into a colorful rainbow to everyone else in the room.  The staff even allowed Calator an opportunity to examine the disk.  When all had their chance at viewing the object, Lockvor took it.

"Your generosity creates an onus on us.  One we must repay.  Calator said you intend going further south, into unexplored territory.  Tell us your reasons and we will do all possible helping you."

Plezwerk lifted the cup of tea, savoring its warmth.  "When I left my tribe, I wanted to reach the Known Lands.  My goal, nothing more than learning what happened to the morph races living there since our exile.  The Inn resolved that mystery.  It left me unfulfilled."

"How so," asked Lockvor

"Stories of the Before Time when our Makers ruled this world speak of marvels beyond belief.  Back at the Inn, I heard of a fox who found a human military base that was intact.  A ram spoke of a weapon that caused terrible pain without doing physical damage.  Both stories sounded recent.  Once I knew my first destination was Eugene Oregon, I searched my book for a place most likely to contain human treasures."

He pulled out one of the books he carried and motioned the others to draw closer.  Plezwerk pointed to the overview map and the location of Eugene Oregon.  Pages turned and he showed the rats a more detailed map of the city and the surrounding area.  A reference number took him to a third map.  With a firm tap to the page, he indicated his final destination.

Calator read the map.  "A military training facility?  Your sense of logic is sound.  If two other morphs have found treasures and marvels at other military bases, one marked on a map must contain wonders beyond comprehension.  Makes me wish I was going with you."

Questions regarding his quest came from every rat.  Lockvor called for order.  That is when the real work started.  First came inquiries regarding necessary equipment for a trip there and back.  Plezwerk admitted he never thought that far ahead.  In his haste to discover something, he overlooked the logistics of such a mission.

Fortunately, Lockvor knew about such things as he led the expedition that found this ancient city.  His first list considered just the basics needed.  The one for just food and equipment soon exceeded what Plezwerk could ever carry alone.  That realization had the rats debating who and how many must accompany the squirrel.  With each additional morph, the rats recalculated the supplies needed.

Plezwerk didn't want to admit it, but his ambitious quest was doomed to failure.  He never planned further than the next moment, thinking this adventure no more strenuous than a simple hike in the woods.  Seeing this dig site convinced him otherwise.  If he pressed on by himself he might become hopelessly lost.  If he expected to come back with any treasure his quest had to extend well beyond winter.  Doing this in unexplored territory made success near impossible at best.  Once again, he felt defeated.

However, Lockvor sounded too optimistic.  He convinced Plezwerk that this first trip had to do nothing more than scout the area in hopes of finding the human base.  They had the maps as a guide but the conversion from human miles to what morphs used varied.  Lockvor had the experience navigating unfamiliar territory with maps from a time so far removed that landmarks changed.  In spite of such difficulties, he found this human settlement. 

"As much as it pains me to say this," Lockvor said, "we will need those bruins.  The problem is our friend here is not a party to our treaty.  If something is found at this military base, its ownership will be disputed.  Are you willing to loose anything found if the porcupines later rule against you?"

 7 
 on: May 15, 2017, 05:02:18 AM 
Started by cairn destop - Last post by cairn destop
The Chief Digger froze in place, his paws held up towards the sky.  Like the young diggers, his mouth hung open and a look of utter amazement could still be seen in the dim light of the campfire.  The one exception, Calator.  He placed both paws over his face as if that simple act hid him from those still stunned by Plezwerk's outburst.

"As a matter of fact," said the Chief Digger, "that is indeed what we discovered.  It took us all winter solving that one mystery and you say it as if you question our integrity.  How is it you know this when we are yet to make our findings public?"

Calator never moved, he just spoke to the nearby fire as if it asked the question.  "My companion has two Rands in his possession, both in mint condition.  Last night he showed me our destination and how we got the name incorrect."

"Nay, sir, we did not get the name wrong.  What we had was incomplete information.  Hence the name Eug On.  Incomplete information can be amended, which is what we did.  Mistakes are wrong and unacceptable under any circumstance."

There was do denying the defensive posture of the rat.  No amount of logic would sway him to see his initial blunder.  He would never admit he jumped to a conclusion years back and that his mistake took on a life of its own.  Plezwerk suspected he might need this fellow's support once he got to the dig site.  Good thing being the son of a tribal elder taught him how to placate the rat's overinflated ego.

"It takes a greater morph than I to realize incomplete information can lead to errors.  It also takes an intelligent fellow to amend what was thought to be true for what is now known as factual.  You are such a morph and I bow to your superiority in this matter." Plezwerk said.

Success.  The Chief Digger's posture relaxed.  The fellow sat on a tree stump, his head shaking back and forth at a slow pace.  When he stopped moving, Plezwerk waited.  If the fellow rejected his explanation, he had an entrenched enemy.  Good fortune smiled on him when the rat glance his way.

"Two Rands?  Both in mint condition?  Than you can answer the question that has baffled many.  What is in the book's inside pocket?"

"We have a long journey tomorrow and I don't feel like repeating myself, so let's wait until we reach camp and I can tell those who need to know at the same time," Plezwerk said.

Though reluctant to let him go, the Chief Digger agreed with the suggestion.  One by one the other rats returned to their tents, tired but eager to continue the journey.  Plezwerk expected at least one visitor during the night.  Maybe even one with either a blade for his throat or his maps.  Either possibility made the night less than restful.

Morning came and things went from peaceful to hectic.  Tents went down and everything had to be packed.  Meals were eaten in haste as the sun signaled the beginning of another day.  The way the Chief Digger kept pushing for more speed, he knew the rat's sense of curiosity needed satisfaction.  Whenever the fellow came within whispering range, he fired a volley of questions that Plezwerk fended off without insulting the older rat's position.  It made any observations of the surrounding area impossible.

When the Chief Digger announced they had arrived at their destination, it was a bit of a disappointment.  Plezwerk didn't know what to expect but somehow this seemed anticlimactic.  The area to the south consisted of a cleared forest.  Bruins pulled wagons that shifted fallen logs and mounds of debris to the camp.  He saw nothing that came close to the term excavation or anything matching the marvel of a legendary human city.

Where he anticipated a virtual village of rats, he found three camps.  One consisted of a single rough log building that could withstand anything the weather threw their way.  He counted a dozen bruins moving about this area.  Across a dirt road, four log shacks, each half the size of those used by the bruins.  Rats coming from the field went to one of these buildings before returning to their assigned location.  The last camp sprang up a distance away and was nothing more than two or three dozen one-morph tents arranged in rows.

Introductions were made between the newest diggers and the staff.  Like the night before, the rat staff insisted Plezwerk tell them everything once the Chief Digger mentioned the two mint condition Rands.  At least the camp's leader, a rat named Lockvor had the decency to forestall any additional inquiries until the staff had a chance to enjoy the evening meal.  Lockvor considered Plezwerk's books an engraved invitation and insisted that he join them.  As a courtesy, Calator was asked to attend.

The dinner rivaled that of the Inn when it came to quantity.  Quality was another issue but one Plezwerk didn't raise.  It was better than the dry rations served on the raft but lacked much in taste.  Still, hot food trumped whatever the ringtails served their passengers.

Between courses, conversations swirled about the cabin.  Lockvor led the conversation, discussing anticipated finds at different dig sites around the human city.  Others speculated about the significance of items recovered.  Theories regarding some unknown artifact often caused sharp divides among the staff.  If anything became too heated, Lockvor intervened and all agreed to either change topics or wait until additional information became available.

When all those sitting at the table finished their speculation on the latest find, they shifted their attention to their guest of honor.  His Elders mentioned ancient stories about the predatory stare rats had.  It came nowhere close to the looks he received from the principle members of the dig.  Lockvor had the look of a morph too long denied a decent meal and now found himself at a feast.  Plezwerk repeated the story of his tribe's discovery of the cave, his exploration, his treasures, and the reason behind his self imposed exile.

Lockvor leaned back.  "Calator is right, beyond this dig your riddles would confound most of those within our tribe.  To those who have been here, it is as understandable as the rising of the sun."

Several rats at the table nodded.  Lockvor explained how an unknown disaster destroyed the Maker's city, leaving three types of ruins.  Most buildings imploded, collapsing into impressive mounds of rubble.  Sifting through these yielded few artifacts.  Other structures snapped like a giant tree with the upper portion lying across a long stretch of ground.  The stump of these buildings remained exposed to the weather and like those felled by the disaster, eventually became nothing more than shards of building material.  These had more artifacts and some remained in reasonable condition.

The third type resembled Plezwerk's winter home.  The unknown disaster caused the very bedrock to shift downward, sucking the structure into the hole.  Depending on the magnitude of the shift, several floors or the entire building dropped below the ground level.  Lockvor speculated that the building housing the squirrels shifted to the bottom of the hill it originally stood upon, burying it in a near watertight container.  When a landslide from a neighboring hill covered the site, it preserved everything until its discovery.

"That explains the uniformity of the structure's overall shape, but does nothing to explain the interior," inquired Plezwerk

Lockvor took a sip of his drink before continuing.  "Tall buildings had rectangular cells used by our Makers.  They had doors on them of wood, which rotted away.  I'm willing to bet the walls were just as rotten."

A simple nod had the rat leader continue.  "Humans used stairwells built at either end for travel between levels.  These have ramps that circle a wall.  Like yours, we have found them dangerous.  What you call 'demon's eyes' are elevator shafts.  Speculation is that these moved heavy objects between floors, items too large for the stairwells.  We have never found what was contained in any of these shafts due to the structure's dilapidated condition.  I'm betting the answers we seek about elevator shafts might be contained in your winter home."

"What of my treasures, any idea what they are?"

"We have found wooden writing sticks, useable when stored in a dry, airtight box.  Nobody has any idea what the metal tip does; perhaps its function broke over time.  Different writing implements of all sizes and shapes can be found.  Why so many similar objects for the same purpose confounds us.  Since none work. nobody gets too excited finding one.  As to those metal disks, they might be a medium of exchange.  None have ever been found in such great condition but we do find them scattered about the area."

Calator interrupted Lockvor.  "Any idea about the location where our tree hugger found his greatest treasure."

"Ah yes, the Rands.  Simplicity itself," Lockvor said.  "The metal boxes he describes are like the wooden file boxes our tribe keeps back home.  Most human files are locked and have proven difficult opening.  The ones we do open contained rotting papers.  His were in a storage room the Makers considered important for some unknown reason.  The closed metal door created an airtight seal, which is why it was so well preserved."

"That wasn't the only reason," Plezwerk responded.  "Each book was in a hard transparent shell.  Very difficult opening."

Lockvor ears perked up when Plezwerk described what encased the Rand.  He darted out of the room without saying a word to any.  Nobody had a chance to speculate on his departure as he returned at a running pace.  With a flick of his wrist, he sent the object he held skidding across the table.

Plezwerk had no way of opening the clear shell attached to the book while he sat at the table and said as much.  Lockvor offered him the use of whatever equipment he needed if he would open it now.  He considered the idea and quickly agreed.  At least it stopped Lockvor from looking at him as if he was dessert.  Another rat rushed outside with the list of tools needed.

A paw saw heated over a cooking stove took time.  Patience warred with expectations as the rats fidgeted in their chairs.  Calator agreed to using the paw bellows to increase the heat of the fire. After a dozen passes, the saw's teeth wore down to worthless stubs.  Plezwerk grabbed a second saw and continued attacking the clear cover in the same spot.  When he discarded the fourth saw, he announced success. 

Near the middle, he had a crack no bigger than his fingernail.  Hammer and chisel came into play.  Plezwerk initially tapped at the crack, driving the chisel towards the floor.  Every rat expressed some worry that he might damage the treasure but didn't intervene.  Little by little, the crack expanded.  Whenever he rested, Plezwerk tried inserting two metal rods into the opening.  At last he got one rod on each side of the book.

"We need a winch to pull this apart.  With enough tension, it will crack," said an exhausted Plezwerk.

The Chief Digger stepped outside saying he knew what he needed.  When he returned, four bruins followed him into the cabin.  A strong knot on each rod and two bruins on each rope stood ready.  When the Chief Digger nodded, the four bruins pulled with all their combined weight and strength.  At first, the book hung in midair.  The loud shriek preceded the shattering of the transparent cover, sending four bruins onto their rumps.  The book dropped at Plezwerk's feet.

Lockvor picked up the book before anyone else could grab it, "We found this in a buried building called 'Fraternity.'  Other books inside this buried structure rotted into paper mulch, but not this one.  'Third Year Algebra,' I wonder what secrets it holds."

One bear stood up and pointed at the camp's leader.  "Per our contract, since we were the ones responsible for acquiring this specific treasure item, our two tribes share its contents.  Or do you intend to contest our claim?"

 8 
 on: May 14, 2017, 05:40:10 PM 
Started by cairn destop - Last post by cairn destop
Anyone who writes knows the editing never ends.  Same with my latest story.  Chapter 11 has been eliminated as it adds nothing to the story.  That means the last chapter will be posted on May 24, 2017.  To those who are reading, my thanks and appreciation.

 9 
 on: May 12, 2017, 04:45:40 AM 
Started by cairn destop - Last post by cairn destop
An unexpected gust of wind caught the raft's sail, shifting it towards the distant shore.  The raccoons made a slight adjustment to the tiller and the boat continued tacking upwind.  Unless one noticed the crew's reaction, the change caused no harm to ship, crew, or passengers.  The pleasant ride upriver continued uninterrupted.

Calator adjusted his straw hat to shade his face.  "I know of the Rand, but what other treasures did you find inside that sealed chamber?"

Plezwerk leaned back against his bedroll.  "The Elders hold a tribal counsel with the first full moon of Spring, which is when all leave the cave.  They do that to debate what the tribe needs to do during the upcoming growing season.  I decided to brag about how many levels I descended and to show off the treasures recovered at that time.  It didn't go as planned."

"Bad," Calator asked.

"I had fifty boxes, each holding a dozen wooden writing sticks.  The Elders saw no use to them since we kept few written record and only the families of Elders knew how to write.  Rolls of different sized silver disks turned out to be worthless, good for melting and recasting as nails but not a valuable treasure.  The copper ones had value, but nobody though it warranted the risk of venturing back that many levels.  My biggest treasure, six glasses used to make fire they dismissed, saying one was enough for the entire tribe."

"You didn't show them the Rands you found?"  Calator's expression showed shock at such an oversight.

"It took a month for me to open the first one.  Caution slowed me when I wanted to race the eagle.  Another week passed before I opened the second book.  Everyone laughed, thinking my collection of ancient maps worthless.  Who needs inaccurate pictures to travel the nearby forest?  Elders told me the world changed too much since the time of our Makers.  I dug a pit, lined it with bricks and mortar to make it waterproof, and buried what I found."

Humiliated, Plezwerk left after the next new moon, traveling south.  It made no sense to him recreating their legendary exile migration from the Known Lands.  Elders told tales of a fierce tribe of dogs who guarded the pass in a castle built in the time of humans.  If such a story proved accurate and he couldn't convince the guardian Dog Tribe to let him through the pass, it would force him to backtrack homeward. 

That he would not do.  Instead of backtracking, he took a simple compass and kept moving in a southerly direction.  He spent that first winter on the north side of the Barrier Mountains.  When the snows melted, Plezwerk made it through the mountain chain all considered impassible.  One of the maps showed the location of a tunnel built by the Makers that allowed passage through the mountains.  Its one drawback, it took him a great distance to the east.

A search of the maps never revealed the location of the Dog Castle.  That didn't exist when these maps were printed.  However, the mountains didn't change that much over the more than thousand years since the time of humans.  Plezwerk did find a road with the distinctive shape of the Badland Pass between the Known Lands and the Northern Wastelands.  Tribal myths said morphs occupied the southern side and he wondered if they still did.  His curiosity led him westward until he discovered the paved road and the porcupine's Inn.

Calator had no opportunity to question him.  The raccoon captain lifted a horn and blew a long note.  A moment later, another horn replied.  The crew's pace changed from casual to hectic as the raft made its way across the lake.  Eager paws operated the sweep as other raccoons raised extra canvas.

The village came into sight.  Plezwerk decided his companion's description inaccurate.  This place didn't have the feeling of temporary.  The stockade consisted of tall wooden poles buried deep into place.  Each touched its companion forming a solid wall and the tops had been sharpened into stakes.  Even from their position out on the lake, figures could be seen patrolling a walkway near the top.  One or two watchtowers might signify a temporary place, but not the six he counted.

Near the center, three piers jutted into the lake like fingers of a mighty hand.  Great pilings had been driven into the lake and the dock had a feel of permanence.  The one at the near end remained devoid of any craft.  No doubt their final destination.  A raft that dwarfed this one floated at the end of the middle pier.  The third one extended twice as far into the lake and had a virtual flotilla of small craft tied to it.

A scan of the lake revealed similar boats hard at labor gathering fish.  Some had raccoons casting nets.  Others rowed towards shore towing nets that churned the water from the bounty they hauled shoreward.  Along the beach the raccoons sorted, cleaned, and smoked fish while others worked on nets that hung like a month's worth of laundry.

Closer to shore, Plezwerk observed the village itself.  Not one tent anywhere.  Every building a solid wooden structure with a stout roof.  The outer wall protected three sides of the village and extended a fair distance into the lake itself, which acted as the fourth wall to any would be invader.  Instead of a simple box layout, the wall projected off the straight line, making it a formidable defense to any approaching from the land side.

It made Plezwerk pause a moment.  Such a high number of raccoons in one area made this a permanent camp.  The heavy defenses spoke of possible tensions with others in the area.  Stories of ancient wars between morphs during the Dark Times had him shudder.   It made him wonder who these walls protected.

"Something tells me our Elders didn't reveal everything about this camp," Calator muttered.  "Wonder who they anticipate attacking their settlement."

"A good defense discourages a foolish attacker.  It may all be for show."

As the raft drew nearer to the empty pier, a crowd gathered.  It took no intelligence picking out which youngsters had family on the raft.  They jumped and waved while holding onto the paw of another.  The adult showed more restraint but they too waved a small colored cloth as a means of catching somebody's attention.  At least they remained on the shore while the crew tied up the raft.  Once the Captain ordered the plank lowered, the raccoon crew dashed off the raft and into the waiting crowd.

Time to leave the raft.  Each rat strolled down the ramp to the dock and proceeded to the shore.  It didn't take Plezwerk much effort finding who waited for them.  The fellow was a classic rat, overweight and dark of fur.  He stood apart from the raccoons, possibly to be easier to find.

"Seven . . . eight . . . nine, all present and accounted for," the older rat muttered loud enough that all could hear.  "Welcome all.  We have a short overland hike to the dig site.  One more night of roughing it and we will be at camp before the next sunset.  Everyone ready?"

"You have one more traveling with you," Plezwerk said.  "I didn't realize I needed to pass through your dig site to continue south.  If I need some appropriate documentation or permission, I don't have it.  Just give me my backpack and I'll push on without any bother."

Calator jumped to his companion's defense.  "I'll vouch for him, Chief Digger.  We have been together since the Inn and he has no interest in our dig."

"Leave your backpack where it is.  An unexpected visitor is always welcomed, though any morph going further south is a rare thing indeed."

Four bruins transferred the cargo from the raft to a large wagon.  Plezwerk marveled at their strength.  When the raccoon crew loaded the raft at the Inn, it took six of them working together to move just one crate.  One bruin lifted a crate as if it were nothing more than a minor inconvenience.  At the rapids, it took two raccoons per cart pulling one crate.  This wagon held all ten crates and everyone's backpacks.

The bruins took their place between the wagon's trace and lifted the poles.  Without even a grunt, they marched forward.  Everyone followed the bruins.  The caravan proceeded through a large gate and over a wide drawbridge to the outlying buildings.  Plezwerk noticed the division of labor among the raccoons.  Those inside the stockade concentrated on fishing while those outside the walls cultivated fields of vegetables.

Beyond the raccoon village, all signs of civilization ceased.  The trail they followed couldn't be called a proper road.  It was nothing more than hard packed dirt with many ruts and deadfall that had the cart bouncing more than the raft ever did.  Sometimes a wheel lodged itself in a deep hole.  Two of the bruins would pull while the other two pushed.  If a fallen tree blocked the path, all four bruins worked at moving the obstacle.  Such hazards were frequent but seldom delayed them long enough for even a short rest.

Since he and the rats remained unencumbered, the trip turned into a pleasant walk through the wilderness.  Two quick stops during the day for about an hour allowed everyone a chance to grab a bite to eat and to massage sore feet.  Plezwerk hated to admit it, but without the caravan showing him the trail, his progress to his anticipated destination might extend through spring, summer, and autumn.  That would mean spending winter in an unexplored wilderness.  Been there, done that, but still not a pleasant experience.

Darkness and an open field equals an acceptable campsite.  Each morph pitched their individual tent.  Once camp was set, the bruins retired to one side.  Plezwerk wanted nothing more than a good night's rest.  However, all the rats had no intention of sleeping.  Questions regarding the dig were asked and answered by the Chief Digger.  There would be no peace and quiet this night.

"Since last year's dig ended, we have made a monumental discovery.  One that will forever change our view of this site," the Chief Digger announced.

"I hope this 'monumental discovery' is something other than learning the name of this ancient human city is Eugene Oregon."

 10 
 on: May 10, 2017, 04:40:41 AM 
Started by cairn destop - Last post by cairn destop
As winter approached, Plezwerk learned his hope of inheriting his father's title as tribal elder would never happen.  With the birth of twin nephews, Plezwerk's ambitions vanished.  Not that he had much hope as the second son.  Now his nephews stood second and third in line behind his older brother.

He needed another way of proving his dominance.  While all stayed in the safety of the cave's upper levels, he intended going deeper than any squirrel ever ventured.  He might never inherit his father's title of Tribal Elder, but others would seek his counsel if he proved himself braver than anyone else.

Others made a similar boast every year.  None returned who attempted anything deeper than the seventh level.  The fifth and sixth levels no longer held anything valuable as earlier generations scavenged everything.  Plezwerk learned the stories of those adults who successfully reached the seventh floor.  Those bold adventurers used the winding ramp, which required one to shift from one end to the other since the ramps became more dangerous the deeper one went and they continued to deteriorate.  The ramp that seven winters back appeared sturdy and solid now had a hole big enough for a misplaced foot. 

He anticipated such setbacks.  He devised another plan for reaching the lower levels that circumvented the ramps.  It took him time devising a way of testing his idea.  A few failed, others proved themselves impractical.  Those failures did him no harm and led to modifications.  Over the last few days before the first winter storm, he tested his latest idea and found it feasible. 

Plezwerk awaited the first heavy storm, eager to put his plan into action.  When the snows did fall, he rushed to his designated living cube.  Too young to be considered an adult and too old to be accepted by children, nobody pestered him.  He checked and recheck his gear, as he waited for the right moment.

He did seek others, hoping to lead them on the deepest exploration ever.  If he lead others as deep as he hoped, those who came would not only boast of their achievement, but of his resourcefulness and leadership.  Tribal Elders would risk the wrath of the entire tribe if they dared to dismiss his voice after he came back triumphant. 

Now that winter had them huddled in the cave, his contemporaries changed their mind.  Instead of exploring the lower levels, those on the cusp of adulthood expressed no desire for such adventures.  The ones who backed his play before the snows decided the move far too dangerous or the anticipated gain insufficient. 

Trapped, that one word described Plezwerk's emotions.  He made such lofty claims prior to the winter snows that to back out now would destroy whatever role he hoped to play in the tribe's power structure.  Boastings without backing would relegate him to the role of tribal buffoon.  Not going to happen if he had anything to do about it.

Reaching the sixth level wasn't too difficult.  Most of the tribe's adults had gone that deep at least once in their lifetime.  The seventh proved harder, but with the advice of those who also ventured that deep, he made it.  The first trip from the sixth to the seventh floor scared him.  As he ferried his supplies from one to the other, he gained confidence.  Tired from all the work, he rested in a nearby chamber.

When he awoke, he put his plan into operation.  Instead of using the deteriorating ramps at either end, he intended to use the demon's eye.  He had fashioned eight grappling hooks and carried enough rope to drop as deep as twelve levels.  He dropped the first hook and tried catching the upper rim of the demon's eye one level down.  With the rope secured, he threw the line into the eye across the hallway. 

A second rope lowered a lantern.  If it didn't provide enough illumination, his adventure ended.  He grasped the first rope and slid down to the first knot.  No way out, just up or down remained.  Another knot and still another knot slid between his paws.  A quarter of the rope gone and the opening remained far below his feet.  Had he miscalculated? 

Two more knots down and he reached his goal.  In the lantern's light he saw the grappling hook and breathed a sigh of relief.  It remained anchored to the upper lip of the eye opposite to him.  He kicked out at the wall between the demon eyes and swung away from the illuminated corridor.  His momentum changed and now he approached the opening.  Plezwerk released his grip and skidded to a halt halfway between the two staring demons.  By throwing the rope around the narrow wall between two eyes, he secured the rope.  He had his means of returning to the higher floors.

As he did on the stairwell, Plezwerk lugged his gear from one floor to the next.  Once he accounted for everything, he repeated the process with a second rope, leaving the first one in place.  He thought it would become easier with repetition; it didn't.  By the time he lugged his supplies to the next level and freed the lantern, he needed to rest. 

These levels remained as uniform as those where his people lived.  The one difference, the thickness of the dust and dirt.  He didn't care about the mess.  Plezwerk cleared enough space for sleep and turned out the lantern.  The absolute darkness felt heavier than any winter coat.

Time had no meaning.  When he awoke, his applied steel to flint until the lantern flared to life.  Within that circle of light, Plezwerk feared nothing.  It was what laid beyond that boundary that scared him.  His current success spurred him to continue his descent.

When he finished ferrying his supplies another three levels, he made what had to be a monumental decision.  He would go no further down.  As much as he hated to admit it, this adventure took more energy out of him than he anticipated.  Worse yet, the air grew fouler the deeper he went. 

Six levels down and still alive.  Plezwerk went deeper than anyone ever attempted and did it solo; that proved his bravery.  Him doing it without challenging the ramps showed his intelligence and resourcefulness.  His next objective, find a treasure worth the risks taken.  It had to be something the rest of the tribe would speak about for years to come. 

Refreshed after a short rest, he tried lighting one of the torches he brought.  It sputtered to life, the flame giving off a dim glow.  Plezwerk hunted for one of the corner ramps curious to know their condition this far below the four occupied by the tribe.  When he pushed the door open, the torch flared to life. 

In its illumination, he found one ramp to his left and nothing else.  Lying on it was the skeletal remains of an unknown morph.  Male or female, young or old, long lost friend or just another tribal youth, it all remained a mystery.  Plezwerk wondered if the adventurer trusted the solidity of a ramp or the security of a rusty railing before his fatal fall.  Did he misjudge a jump or was he inept with knots?  Plezwerk wondered if the others plunged to their deaths trying to do what he was doing now.

Once the door closed, the torch's light waned.  Now he knew why the air seemed so foul.  No circulation.  When he opened the door, air entered from the ramp shaft.  Problem, the door kept closing due to a device he couldn't disable.  The expected landing didn't exist at this level so he couldn't reach the mechanism that kept closing the door. 

An idea came to him.  He searched the immediate area, expanding it a little at a time until he located what he wanted, a metal box a bit taller than him.  The five compartments opened, revealing moldy papers, which he discarded.  By pure chance, he discovered a way to remove the compartments.  Plezwerk dragged the metal box to the corner shaft.  Once wedged into the doorway, it kept the door open.

Time to check out the other side of the cavern.  At least the shaft's ramps were present on this side, but his sense of self preservation kept him off the landing beyond the door.  Thanks to the torch flashing to its maximum brightness, his eyes traced a path up and down four levels.  However, these ramps appeared to be less than half the width of those in the living area and the metal barrier no longer existed. 

The added air from the two open shafts kept the torch burning brighter, which made exploration easier.  Now he concentrated on finding something worthwhile.  Stories of the first explorers said the chambers had a wooden barrier in front of them.  Pressure from a single paw had it crumble to a pile of rotting splinters.  He found such legends hard to accept until he proved them true on this unexplored level.

Two such doors crumbled when he pushed them with his shoulder.  He remained near the destroyed doors and held his torch high.  The light reflected off a shiny barrier located in a distant corner.  Metal bars, including a broken gate, extended as high as his hip, separating a portion of this chamber from the rest of the room.  Plezwerk figured something of value must lie beyond it, so he hurdled over the low wall.  He discovered a metallic ball marring the smooth metal surface of one wall.  It reminded him of something he found on the wooden doors.  This must control access to whatever lied beyond.  He tried lifting it, pushing it down, and moving it side to side.  Nothing happened. 

It resisted his efforts when he twisted it to the right.  A turn to the left produced a loud bang that made his heart race.  A sense of terror claimed him as every horror story replayed in his mind.  When no demon attempted to steal his soul or take his life, he relaxed.  His second attempt at twisting the bulb had it turn with ease but the door remained closed.  He placed his foot on the neighboring wall and with a mighty grunt pulled with all the strength he possessed.  It opened.

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