Rat & Will Chapter 23: Tight Security?

They approached the castle carefully, not sure how many extra men would be out on the walls due to the fires. Turned out, the additional care was unnecessary; the couple turned a corner perfect for an ambush and instead found a door held open with a small block of wood. Seeing it, Will sighed. “If we’d known we wouldn’t need the fires or dogs…”

Rat had bumped him slightly before moving ahead. “Don’t worry, I’m sure the fires will come in handy. And you know how much I liked the dog idea.”

Behind her, Will chuckled. “I do. And I hope so. I hate to think we caused all that trouble for nothing.”

Rat just shrugged, pulled out a sharp knife, and slid quietly through the door. It opened into a small chamber lined with barrels and empty boxes. Storage room. Shaking her head, she moved past the haphazard piles to the door on the other side. It was closed, but opened easily when she tugged on it. “Not very secure.”

“Maybe they just assumed everyone was too scared to attempt the walls.” Will looked as uncertain as Rat. “Be careful.”

She nodded. It felt like a trap, and she absolutely hated walking into those. Also, it didn’t make all that much sense. This was supposed to be a surprise attack. Rat eased through the second door, finding herself at the end of an empty and dimly lit hallway. She walked down it, taking care to make as little noise as possible. Halfway down, there was a locked door she didn’t bother with. 

At the end, the hall made an abrupt turn. Peering carefully around the corner, she saw a bored-looking man guarding a door at the end. There were two more doors between their location and the guard. Rat turned back to Will, signaled him to be ready, and let one of the bags of stones clatter to the floor. At the end of the tunnel, the guard called out, “Hello? Who’s there?” When Rat and Will didn’t answer, he called again, “Damn it, is that you, Red? I told you not to drink so much ale before shift.” 

Rat waited as, grumbling, the guard made his way towards them. When he came round the corner, she ducked and Will knocked him out with a single punch. The man crumpled and Rat searched him quickly. She pulled his purse and a large ring of official looking keys before Will dragged him back to the door. “Probably best not to tie this one. He’ll be out a while, and maybe anyone else will think he was drinking on the job.” Will murmured softly. 

Rat nodded and finding each of the other doors locked, began testing the keys on the first door. When Will raised a brow, she grinned. “We should make sure what’s here, right?” He rolled his eyes, but said nothing as she managed to find the right key and softly unlocked the door. 

Inside, they found another storage room, this one full to bursting with food stores. “This will come in handy for the people if we manage to oust Tremant.” Will muttered, looking around at the heaps of food. 

“Right. Not so helpful to us though.” Rat shook her head and relocked the door. The next room was more interesting. It contained weapons and armor, most of which was damaged or poor quality, but Rat noted a few pieces that interested her. She swiftly wrapped those in a blanket and hid them in a dark corner. “We live, we can come back for these.”

“Got to live, first.” Will noted. 

Rat chuckled. “And you say I’m the one that doesn’t think positively. I’ll be back for those beauties.” She relocked the room and led the way to the door that was no longer guarded. It was locked, but Rat quickly found the proper key and opened it. What turned out to be the armory with two small offices towards the back, were all empty of people, and showed recent disuse in the abundance of cob webs.

They tossed the room carefully, Will pocketing a few hard-to-find mending supplies, while Rat disposed of small sums of coin from each office. She bagged up a few other valuables that were less portable and hid them in a box at the back of the office for later retrieval. Will wrinkled his nose. “We’re going to have a lot of stuff to recover if you keep that up.”

Rat shrugged unrepentantly. “We were promised two pack horse loads and all we could carry. Worse case, other stuff later is better than this stuff and we leave this crap for someone else. But we’re getting paid.”

“Fair enough.” Will knew better than to argue with his wife about getting paid. If Rat had a religion, that was it. “You ready to move on?”

“Sure.” She looked around, a bit nervously. “This seems really easy, doesn’t it?”

“Now that you mention it, yes.” Will shrugged. “Should I complain about that?”

“No. Unless it means it really is a trap later.” Rat grimaced and glared over at the next door they had to check. “I hate traps.”

“At least you got to start your fires before the trap.” Will grinned at her.

“True.” Rat shook off her worry and slid quietly towards the next door. No reason to worry - it wouldn’t change the outcome anyway. 

This time the door wasn’t locked. Rat met Will’s eyes and slowly opened the door. It opened on another long hall, this one cluttered with doors on both sides. Rat snarled. She hated trying to sneak through places with lots of doors. Too many places for people to wander out of, too many chances to be caught in the open while checking everything. Just too damn many ways for it all to go tits up.

“This is going to take all night.” Will whispered. 

“We’ll just go faster.” Rat shot back. And true to her word, she crossed to the first door and checked it. It was unlocked. Inside, a small bedroom for two, probably for mid-level officers. It was empty and looked disused. Rat tossed it quietly and found nothing of interest, then motioned Will to be ready. 

The next couple of bedrooms contained some coin and a few other small trinkets, but little else of interest. Rat was relatively sure they’d already been tossed. “Maybe these belonged to guys we killed…?”

Will shook his head thoughtfully. “Maybe? But I’m wondering if Tremant isn’t cleaning house. Or if the demon mage wasn’t using his own people when the townspeople started hiding.”

“Ugh. I was really hoping we were wrong about that.” Rat sighed and bent low to sneak to the next door, which was locked. There she found another office. This one looked well used, like the person was expected back at any time. Rat grinned at the large bag of coin (mostly silver and a few gold) and random jewelry she found in the false bottom of a drawer. A few larger items were bagged and hidden behind the door. 

Several more doors led to bedrooms and another large storage room of food stuffs. Still, it was too quiet, the lack of any comings or goings speaking to something eerily wrong in a building of this size. 

They ran out of luck at the end of the hall. Two men guarded the door on the other side and managed to alert four more before Rat could subdue them. When the next group of men arrived, she stopped trying to save lives and simply shot two of them with small arrows. She injured the third man and was nearly in a position to kill him when Will, having dispatched his own final guard, stabbed him from behind with his sword. 

They waited, but when no one else came running, Rat rolled the bodies before Will drug them off to a corner. There were blood stains, but Rat simply doused one of the torches nearest the door. “Too dark to see much now.” She muttered when Will grinned at her “housekeeping.”

They were in a dining hall of sorts. Rat looked, but aside from food there wasn’t much worth stealing. Shrugging at Rat’s disgust at the sad state of what remained of the silverware, Will shoved several nice looking apples in his bag. Seeing a bowl of nuts, he dumped the whole thing in with the apples. At Rat’s impatient sigh, he grinned and shoved a few in his mouth. “Expensive enough you’d rather not pay for them. Already shelled and everything.” 

Frowning at Will with more impatience than she really felt, Rat gestured towards the doors on the other side of the large room. Will followed close as they found, behind a lock, another storage room of food, and on the other side, another hallway. 

“Great. Another hallway with more damn doors. Goram’s own castle, this place.” Grumbled Rat. Will smirked and looked around. This hallway was grander looking than the others. It was carpeted and had more torches on the walls. There was also the random bit of decoration: paintings, old shields, and ragged flags from past glory days. Rat ignored it all. None of it was worth much outside of the city, probably, or it wouldn’t still be on the wall. 

On the plus side, it had fewer doors. Rat cautiously approached the nearest one, and found it locked. She frowned when none of her keys worked. Will handed her another ring of keys. At her glare, he smiled sheepishly. “Pulled it off the last guy I fought and forgot about it till now.”

After giving him a look that would have frightened most people and only got a smile from Will, she tried the keys on his ring and found one that worked. The room turned out to be another office, this one disused and thick with dust. 

“Probably some bean counter that didn’t get on well with the new leadership.” Sarcasm didn’t help with the dust, but it made Rat feel a bit better about the sneezing. After a bit of searching, she found the expected secret stash of purloined goods and coin (bureaucrats were always a little dirty) and dug out the best bits for her own purse, before handing the rest to Will to dump in a sack he’d found somewhere. There wasn’t much else of value, unless one was interested in the overly comfortable chair cushion or the velvet hangings on the wall. Rat really wasn’t. 

Puzzled, Will leaned against the wall while Rat finished her work. “I get why they didn’t bother keeping the bean counters, but what fool doesn’t clean out the stashes?”

Rat sneered. “Stupid person that’s never led anything larger than a small gang. Mid level ‘crats nearly always take their slice off the top. Wasn’t just that they didn’t care, none of these fools knew that, so missed out on the coin.”

Without another word, the two mercs worked their way quickly through the next several rooms. They were more of the same - mid level offices for glorified bean counters who probably hadn’t weathered the change in the city’s fortunes well enough to come back for their things. Rat pocketed their hidden funds, including one that offered a small fortune in jewels, and left most of the rest for whomever might come through next. Besides being bulky, most of it wasn’t worth the trouble or horse feed to drag it to a city with a working economy. 

There were only five doors left in the hall when they heard it. Noise coming from the very end of the hall. “Sounds like trouble.” Will muttered. 

“Yup.” Rat considered the situation. “Rather not have unknowns sneak up behind us. We finish the rest of this hall first.”

“Right.” Will agreed. He looked around grimly. “Be glad to leave this place behind.”

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