Copyright 2021 J.B. Norman
In last week’s chapter, we met the second Darkstone sister, Dunstana. This week, Kat and Dunstana’s adventure begins!
The next morning, Kat is right where she wants to be and where she hopes to remain until at least noon.
She is nicely and cosily sequestered in her bed, blissfully dreaming of a wondrous world where kittens frolic playfully and adorably and pudding fountains flow unceasingly and there are no little sisters at all and all the door frames of the world are either extra-high or well-cushioned.
She hasn’t got a care in the world.
Suddenly, from a million miles away, she feels footsteps falling like thunder, darkening the skies of her perfect dream world.
“Go away, Dunstana,” Kat mumbles to her sister through a faceful of pillow as she is torn out of her wonderful dreamscape back to harsh, cruel reality.
“But Kaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat,” Dunstana whines. “You said you’d go adventuring with me today!”
“Too early,” Kat declares laconically. “Come back later.”
“But Kaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat,” Dunstana repeats, extending her name to about twenty-six times its normal length.
And then comes the poking.
Kat suspects that she won’t be getting back to sleep.
Bidding a final farewell to her dream, she reluctantly sits up. She turns her head and stares at her sister through the cascade of hair that has fallen across her face.
Captain Kid is eagerly staring right back at her.
Kat clears away the wave of black hair obscuring her face.
“Five minutes?” she requests.
Dunstana stares at her suspiciously for a minute before beating a hasty retreat from the room.
Once Kat is free of Hurricane Dunstana’s deafening presence, coherence slowly returns to her. When she has her wits back, Kat asks herself the important question.
“Where did I put my pants?”
She can’t very well go adventuring in her pyjamas. They have far too many frills and pictures of kittens to be good adventuring gear.
She makes her way around her room, searching for wearable clothes. She is once again faced with the fact that her room is a mess. The floor is mostly hidden beneath a layer of discarded clothes, books and her miscellaneous possessions that really have nowhere else to live.
She’d clean up, but if she did, she’d probably wake up some long-forgotten horror slumbering in the depths of Mount Laundry.
She picks up each article of clothing and examines it in turn. Satisfied that everything is clean and wearable, if hugely wrinkled and rumpled, Kat gets dressed. Once she’s got her pants, shirt and vest on, she steps into her boots and pulls her gloves onto her hands.
She concludes by reaching for her Adventuring Belt and buckling it around her waist.
Like most adventurers, Kat finds herself needing very specific tools for very specific situations.
To account for any eventuality that might arise, Kat houses those tools in the many, many pouches hanging from her Adventuring Belt: rope if she needs to tie things together or do some kind of climbing; the ingredients to make a few quick emergency potions; smoke bombs if she needs to run away; spare bowstrings; her pouch of spare change; and maybe a sandwich or something if she gets hungry.
A pair of daggers hangs from the Belt, because adventuring is a dangerous career. But ever since her grandfather taught her to shoot, Kat has preferred to use her bow. The daggers are for times when there isn’t enough room for archery, or if she ever finds herself facing a life-or-death need to peel potatoes.
Once she’s in adventuring shape, Kat steps out into the hall and heads downstairs. Dunstana and their parents are assembled at the breakfast table.
The Admiral is hidden behind the day’s edition of the Porthaven Times. The most she sees of him is the beefy, hirsute hand that appears occasionally to reach for his coffee cup.
Coffee is a recent arrival to the shores of Realmgard from overseas and no one quite understands how it works. The general consensus is that the wonderful energising drink clearly functions thanks to some kind of secret, heretofore unknown magic. It must be magic.
Kat can’t see any other explanation to account for the change it brings to her father’s demeanour every morning.
Kat’s mother Estelle is preparing breakfast. Kat gets her looks from her mother, including the tallness. At fifteen and still growing, Kat is already a few inches taller than her mother, but Estelle is still taller than any of the other moms Kat knows.
Kat takes her place at the table, beside her father and across from Dunstana. Her mother appears and hands her a plate of breakfast and a cup of orange juice.
Midway through her breakfast, Kat looks to see Dunstana staring eagerly and unblinkingly at her.
“Yes?” she asks through a mouthful of toast.
“Are you done yet?” Dunstana asks in reply.
There’s a brief pause.
“What about now?”
“Eat faster!” Dunstana commands.
“Maybe you should go get your things together,” Estelle suggests. “Kat might just be finished by the time you’re ready.”
Dunstana hops down from her chair and disappears from the kitchen, leaving Kat free to finish her breakfast in peace.
By the time Dunstana reappears, Kat has finished her breakfast and is working on the last dregs of her juice.
“Are you ready now?” Dunstana asks impatiently.
Dunstana is all set for the adventure at hand, dressed in her pirating clothes, with her fetching hat set determinedly on her head and a backpack slung over her shoulders. From her belt hang her gun and sword.
Kat has always thought it somewhat irresponsible that their parents let Dunstana run around with a gun and sword, but thankfully they’re not real. The sword is wood and the gun shoots corks.
Still, they are enough to do some damage. Kat has firsthand knowledge of that.
Kat reluctantly pushes herself away from the table. “Yeah,” she answers. She looks up at her parents. “I guess that means we’re leaving. We’ll be back when we’re back.”
“Have fun, dear,” Estelle bids.
“Don’t do anything I’d do,” the Admiral jokes from behind his newspaper.
As Kat heads to the door, she reaches for the wall and pulls down her bow and quiver full of arrows from their shelf. If she’s going on an adventure, she’ll probably need to shoot an arrow at something or other. Slinging her quiver over her shoulder, Kat steps outside behind Dunstana. The day is overcast and smells like rain. It’s cold. She should have worn something with longer sleeves. At least it’s not raining. Yet.
“So,” Kat asks, pausing at the door to string her bow. “Where are we going?”
Captain Kid begins to lead her sister towards their latest adventure. As the two sisters make their way through town towards the beach, it starts raining. Kat sighs in exasperation.
Just once, she’d like to have an adventure where nothing goes wrong.
The rain doesn’t deter Dunstana, though. When she’s got an idea in her head, nothing short of the Powers making the sky fall screaming down upon the earth is going to stop her.
Even then, it’d probably only slow her down for a few minutes.
“The cave’s over here,” Dunstana announces when they arrive on the beach and it’s still raining. “Follow me!”
Not having a choice, Kat follows her sister along the beach to a cliff. They’ve gone so far down the beach that Porthaven is barely visible in the distance. In the cliff face, there is a large opening, mostly obscured by the creeping vines growing on the cliffs. Dunstana stands by the yawning maw of the cave.
She had been excited, but now that she is standing in front of the cave, she is starting to hesitate. Still, she’s doing her best to look brave, with her face grimly set with not entirely convincing determination.
“Are you ready?” Kat asks.
“You gonna be right beside me, right?” Dunstana replies anxiously.
“Of course,” Kat answers with complete sincerity. “Just like always.”
Dunstana takes a deep breath and nods. “Okay,” she declares. “I’m ready.”
Kat brushes aside the vines and steps into the cave. She just knows that something horrible is waiting to horribly eat her.
A Dragon, probably. Or a Turboshark. Or a Dire Marmot. Or any number of other nasty things. As Kat and Dunstana make their way deeper and deeper into the cave, it gets darker and darker.
Kat is starting to worry that she’ll end up walking right into the Dragon’s mouth without knowing it.
“Do we have light?” she asks when it becomes too dark to continue.
“I hope so,” the little pirate says. “Let me check.” Kat hears her rummaging around. “Aha!” she exclaims in triumph before too long, producing a lantern from her backpack.
The light of the lantern illuminates the cavern, making their surroundings clear. There isn’t much of anything to see.
“Well,” Kat says, surveying their surroundings. “It’s definitely a cave.”
“There’s nothing here,” Dunstana says in sad disbelief. “It’s not even a big cave. It’s just a stupid hole in the ground.”
“You alright?” Kat asks.
“Yeah,” Dunstana sighs. “I was just hoping we’d find some treasure, or something.”
“If there was ever any treasure, it’s probably long gone,” Kat notes. “We’re only a few minutes outside of Porthaven.”
“Yeah,” Dunstana says again. “And there’s a rock in my boot, too.” She throws her hands up into the air. “This is just the worst day ever!” She exhales raggedly.
Kat cautious takes a step closer to her sister, just in case hugs will prove necessary.
Really, the only notable feature of the cave is a large stone sticking out of the ground. Grumbling, Dunstana hobbles over it and moves to sit down to take off her boot and shake the rock out.
As soon as she’s sitting down on the stone, it begins to slowly sink into the ground and the cave fills with loud shaking.
What’s happening? Why is the cave shaking? What have the Sisters Darkstone gotten themselves into?
Or, if you don’t feel like waiting, please consider buying either a paperback (available on most regional Amazon sites) or ebook copy (available on Amazon for Kindle e-readers or in select formats on Smashwords and affiliated retailers).
Thank you for your support and ongoing interest in Realmgard!