The dungeon cell was nearly pitch black, with naught but a slight flicker of torchlight filtering through a crack under the door. The walls of the small room were damp and partially covered with moss. A pair of heavily rusted shackles hung on the wall opposite an iron-reinforced wood door. In one corner lie a mattress; it was little more than a burlap sack stuffed with straw. Atop the mattress lie the remains of the last resident, a corpse picked clean of everything but a few scraps of cloth.
After having perished several years prior, the dead prisoner suddenly found new life. The skeleton slowly rose to a sitting position, then paused before sliding off the mattress that was being moved behind it. A dark figure rose from a secret passageway that had been dug beneath the mattress and hidden by a false stone floor. It took a brief moment to survey its surroundings before making a move.
Lilith approached the cell door and put an ear up against the aging, but sturdy oak surface. Hearing nothing, she tested the door. As suspected it was unlocked and swung open with a light shove. Despite the aged appearance, the hinges were obviously well maintained; the door made nary a sound as it moved. (Always ready for fresh meat.) She slowly stepped out into the hall, and froze at the sound of crumbling rock.
The dark, roughly hewn passage was more of a tunnel than a hallway. There were several doors carved out of its walls, each leading to an uninviting home for criminals. At one end was an even sturdier looking door accompanied by the lone torch that provided light for the entire hall. Its barely flickering flame was significant in that it meant there would soon be a changing of the guard.
A rat scurried across the floor, chattering away to an unseen companion. It climbed up the wall and slipped through a small hole in the rock. There were several of these holes at set intervals along the hall, likely leading to the surface to help fresh air reach the dungeon - or perhaps to let the foul stench rise out. Whichever the case, it did not seem to be working.
Lillith let out a slow, measured breath, and began to move forward. Darkford's dungeon wing did not seem to having any living residents; apart from rats the cells were all far too quiet. As she approached the door to the main compound, voices of the guards began to filter in. Gathering up her cloak, she activated its magic and shimmered out of sight.
"... make it to the mess hall in time, and you might be able to score some cobbler."
"You're kidding! I thought yambi berries were out of season." The door to the dungeon swung open and a guard stepped in.
"They are. A shipment of lingonberries came down from Mistfell. Apparently the Fellpine Forest is overrun with them this year." The guard replaced the failing torch with a fresh one, bathing the dungeon in new light. He paused. "Did you hear something?"
"You mean those rats? The damn place is crawling with them. Someone needs to clean out the cells."
Closing the door, the replacement guard remarked, "It won't matter much longer anyway. Better get going if you want some of that cobbler." Neither man noticed the third presence that they could not see.
Despite the fact that she was hidden from view, Lilith's reputation did not develop from taking chances. She stuck to the shadows and moved far quieter than the scurrying rodents. Lesser used corridors where the locations of choice, and larger groups of soldiers were avoided. Fortunately everyone seemed distracted with their own preparations.
As she moved through the compound, she noticed something odd. There were crews of Commonwealth engineers moving through the main hallways. They were placing what appeared to be kegs of explosive powder at each intersection. (Are they planning on abandoning Darkford without a fight? There hasn't even been any activity since the goblins were defeated...) Taking mental note of this information, she continued on towards her goal.
The door to the commander's office was flanked by two men; neither looked particularly thrilled with the assignment. Nevertheless, they snapped smartly to attention as a senior officer approached. With a nod, the officer opened the door and entered, with a stack of documents tucked under one arm. Lilith took advantage of the presented opportunity and followed close behind.
"Welcome, Lieutenant Lieman." The commander put down the parchment he was reading and turned his attention to the young officer. Sleepless eyes gave his already haggard face the appearance of far more years than he owned. There was something... strangely familiar about this man that Lilith couldn't quite place. Perhaps she had met him in the past, but that was unlikely given his military background.
Lieman saluted the commander. "Colonel Morgan, I brought the documents you requested."
Morgan waved a hand at the lieutenant. "At ease, Lieman. I get enough from the rest of the men." He gestured at his desk. "Feel free to add them to the collection."
The younger man placed the documents onto a growing stack on the cluttered desk. "No more respect than your rank deserves, sir.
A raised eyebrow greeted that reply. "When have I done anything to earn any respect from these men? Hell, I've been stuck at this post for almost three years now and I've hardly taken it easy on anyone."
"You run a tight ship, and that's hardly unworthy of respect. Besides, you did just get a promotion."
The Colonel snorted. "The promotion was hogwash and everyone knows it. Darkford got credit for helping relieve the goblin threat and we never even left this base. It's quite sad when a single outsider does the job that an entire army can't accomplish, and then we all rush to cover it up. And I'd gladly give all this paperwork up to return to my rank of "lowly" Captain." His eyes narrowed, and he added, "As a matter of fact, if you hadn't turned down your own promotion five years ago, I wouldn't be in this predicament."
(So that's their angle...) Lilith moved to the far corner of the room and continued to observe.
Lieman feigned a look of innocence. "I wasn't ready for the position... and still don't feel that I could handle it."
"More hogwash. The men in this base would follow you to the depths of hell before they'd join me in the smallest of skirmishes."
A casual shrug was the response, then he grinned. "I suppose I have you to thank for that. Is something the matter?"
Morgan had a faraway look on his face, one hand clutching a small amulet around his neck. He blinked, released the amulet. "Sorry, I was lost in thought for a moment. What did you say?"
The lieutenant sighed. "Never mind. I think I've taken up enough of your time. You should get some rest soon as well."
"Sure, as soon as all of these papers get signed. One of the perks of the promotion."
Lieman fired off another salute. "Good evening to you, sir!"
"Get the hell out of here, you bastard, before you land yourself a recon mission up in the Northlands."
"Yes sir!" One last salute before retreating.
(Great, now I just have to wait for the commander to leave. He seems exhausted, hopefully he takes that lieutenant friend's advice.) Lilith settled down in her corner to await the expected event.
She did not have to wait long. Colonel Morgan threw down the pen he was using with a sigh, and headed for the door. Rather than leave, however, he locked the door and then lit a small candle that burned with a strange blue flame. He then returned to his desk and sat back down.
"It's time to get down to the business at hand," he spoke aloud.
(Great, there's no telling when he'll be done now. That candle must be some sort of stimulant to ward off sleep.) Lilith adjusted her own position to get more comfortable.
"You can come out from hiding now, Lilith." He smiled for the first time that evening.
"Apparently, getting your ass kicked is now part of this complete breakfast." - Roy Greenhilt