GUESS WHO'S BACK! Yep, my muse for this has finally returned, and I think I might actually be able to complete it this time! Here's hoping, and here's the chapter. Enjoy~
Kestrel froze for a minute, brain desperately trying to comprehend the chain of events. Eventually things caught up, and she threw herself at Stephano, locking her arms around him and bursting into tears. Stephano hugged her back, waiting patiently for her to calm down. When she did, Kestrel stood back and smiled up at him. "'bout bloody time." She sniffed. "Not that we were worried or anything." Stephano chuckled quietly.
"Of course you weren't. Where are the others hiding?"
"We found a room and blocked up the doors with cog wheels so we could get some rest. I woke up, though, and did a bit of exploring in another room..." The memory of the room covered in blood made her feel ill. Stephano peered behind her, and nodded knowingly. "There are a lot of rooms like that, unfortunately. Why did you go off on your own, though? You know how dangerous it is." A growl sounded from behind him. "See? Now, where did you say this safe room was?"
Back in the safe room, Piggeh woke up suddenly. Confused, and a little bit annoyed at being deprived of valuable sleep, he looked around for a bit. And then noticed something. "JENNIFER, KESTREL'S GONE!" Jennifer jerked awake, instantly alert. "What do you mean 'gone'?"
"SHE'S NOT HERE!"
"Oh great, now the Barrel has Kestrel."
"WHY ARE YOU REMAINING CALM?!"
"WHY ARE YOU PANICKING?!"
"Why are you guys shouting at each other?" The arguing pair spun to face the door, and there was Kestrel, grinning at them, with Stephano limping along beside her. "Look who I found wandering around!" What happened next was a reunion so tearful that the writer had to take a break and find some tissues. Once all the sobbing, crying, wailing, tackle-hugging, and general emotion had died down at least a little, Stephano noticed that one of their party was missing. "I don't mean to ruin the mood or anything..." He said, "But where is Dexter?" Jennifer laughed.
"Dexter? He's right-..." She trailed off, looking around at the room that definitely had no Dexter. "Oh... shit." She spun back to the group. "Okay, did anyone see where he went?"
"Come to think of it, I didn't see him when I woke up." Piggeh mentioned. "Kes, was he here when you went exploring?"
"I think so, yeah. So he went missing after I left, but before Piggeh woke up. At least we know-." She was cut off abruptly by a muffled shriek in the distance, and she sighed. "At least we know he's alive now!" Jennifer hauled the cog wheel from in front of the door, and the group took off running towards the sound. Despite their speed, they were too late, and all they found in the middle of a hallway was a note, and Dexter's hat. Kestrel's heart sank as she picked up the parchment and, sure enough, it was from the Barrel.
Too late, losers! I bet you thought this wouldn't happen again, but you were wrong. Your furniture-friend is mine now, and will be joining dear old Stephano and PewDie in my secret hiding place. You'll be glad to know that everyone's having SO MUCH FUN down there, with all the screaming and stuff! I hope... no, I know you'll be joining me soon. I eagerly await your cries of anguish and pain!
Yours truly, Barrel
By the end, Stephano had paled considerably. "At least he hasn't noticed that I'm gone, but... Dexter... being put through all that... and PewDie's still down there... Jesus Christ, I don't think they'll be able to handle it." Jennifer patted his shoulder reassuringly. "It might not be so bad! Dexter has a way of surprising people; you know that! And PewDie... How was he, when you left?"
"Not good, Jen. I think... I don't know. It's not good. But I guess you're right about Dexter..." Stephano conceded. "We should probably get a move on." Screwing up the paper and scooping Dexter's hat onto her head, Kestrel nodded in agreement. "Well then, let's get going! Piggeh, what have we got?"
"No lantern, no oil, no Laudanum, no sanity potion, and no map!" Piggeh gave a thumbs-up and a grin. "We're going to be absolutely fine!"
Dexter woke up to his feet scraping along the ground, and a large hand gripping his wrist tight. Blinking through the haze in his skull, he craned his neck up to get a look at whoever was dragging him... and screamed internally. A Bro. A Bro was dragging him down the corridor. All grogginess left him instantly, replaced by a blinding panic. Before the Bro's primitive mind could realise what was happening, Dexter jerked his hand free and sprang to his feet, taking off at a sprint back the way he'd come. Adrenaline leant him speed, so it wasn't long before he deemed it safe enough to stop, surrounded by (hopefully) empty rooms once more. Now he was screwed. Sitting with his back against the wall, the brunette ran through a list of things in his head, things that he definitely knew to be true:
He was lost.
He was alone.
He was lost and alone and pretty much defenceless in a mansion where everything was out to kill him, with no weapons, no map, and no plan.
His pockets contained his notebook, a pencil, a spare hat (which he quickly put on), and a bottle of what looked like melted butter.
Wait a second... Melted butter...? "The potion..." Dexter breathed, turning the half-full vial over and over in his hands. This was something, at least. Now all he had to do was find an ally, someone with fighting experience, someone who knew their way around the mansion like no-one else... The obvious but impossible choice was Stephano, but in his absence...
A nearby cupboard offered the solution. Shuffling over and opening it, Dexter cheered quietly as a skull rolled out onto the floor. He poured a drop of potion over the bone, and stepped back. One blinding flash of light later, and there stood a very tall, nearly skeletal man. White hair framed a pale, slim face, dark eyes looking around before landing on Dexter. The stare he received felt... cold; the kind of cold that made you want to curl up into a corner and cry. And that's almost what he did, before those soulless eyes blinked and thin lips parted. "Mister Chair, my dear friend." The newcomer drawled, slow and velvety, holding out a bony hand. "It is about time."
"Nice to see you, Skully." Dexter replied, thankful that the stare was no longer drilling into his soul. "It's been too long, that's for sure." Skully nodded slowly.
"Indeed it has." He paused to look the other up and down. "Although no I do feel as though your name does not fit you. Have you, perhaps, acquired a new name to fit this most recent form?"
"I have; it's Dexter."
"Dexter..." A long, drawn-out murmur. "Dex... ter... Yes, yes I do believe that fits you, my friend." Nodding some more, Skully resumed staring around. "Tell me, Dexter, what has transpired that I have missed?"
And so the pair sat down by the wall, Skully listening carefully as Dexter began to tell the story. He didn't interrupt, and didn't seem to be reacting, but once Dexter was finished, he sighed heavily. "I see... It would seem that you have been through quite a lot of trouble. And as for the Barrel gaining a body... why, this is catastrophic." Dexter nodded in agreement.
"So you'll help?"
"It seems I must." Standing up slowly, Skully cracked his knuckles. "The Inner Sanctum, you said? Easy enough to find. Let us be off." And, with that, he began striding confidently down the hallway, leaving Dexter to scramble to his feet and follow as quickly as possible.
Back with the main group, the bottle of potion was being missed. "I can't believe I lost it..."
"It's okay, Kestrel." Jennifer sighed. "Accidents happen, y'know?"
"Kestrel." The ginger turned and looked up at Stephano. "Please stop blaming yourself." All he got in return was a frustrated noise as the girl stomped on ahead, closely followed by Piggeh, who had made it his job to keep her company. Jennifer watched the two mutter inaudibly to each other with a half-smile. "Poor kid..." She sighed again. "And poor PewDie and Dexter. God, I hope they're managing alright." Her face fell at Stephano's head-shake. "Not managing?"
"PewDie wasn't." The ex-statue muttered. "The things that happen down there... Jesus Christ, Jennifer, if you thought the Barrel was bad enough as an actual barrel..." He shuddered at the memories, pressing a hand lightly to his chest where the wounds made by the knife still throbbed. They were healing, at least, but any vigorous activity would surely re-open them- [You could always just give up... Save the friends you have, and forget about those two idiots who got caught...] "Shut up, you son of a bitch." Stephano spat under his breath, making Jennifer start. "What was that?"
"Nothing, nothing." He said quickly. "Just thinking out loud."
"Are you sure?" The girl frowned. "Because I'm sure you said-."
"GUYS, WE FOUND IT!" A yell came from up ahead. Stephano dashed forward to avoid any more unwanted questions, Jennifer following him closely. They found Kestrel and Piggeh standing by a heavily fortified door, with a sign above the frame reading 'Inner Sanctum'. "Well... here we are..." Jennifer whispered. "Do we just... go in?"
"I guess so." Piggeh replied, serious for once. He reached out and grabbed the door handle, turning it carefully as the clunks of the mechanism echoed around them. The door swung open to reveal a single, wide staircase descending into darkness. He was just about to step forward when a tanned hand stopped him. Stephano had drawn his sword, the metal glinting in the low light. Drawing back in understanding, Piggeh let Stephano lead the way, the Kestrel and Jennifer, and then himself. The door swung shut behind them with a thud, cutting off any source of light, before torches mounted along the walls lit up. Kestrel whimpered, hopping down a step to grab Stephano's spare hand and mumbling, "I'm scared." The man looked down at her, reminded once more that despite all of her bravado, she was still just a child. "It'll be okay." He replied, giving the girl's hand a squeeze. "I promise."
Behind them, Jennifer and Piggeh exchanged small, sad smiles, then followed the other pair down the stairwell, towards the Inner Sanctum, and the Barrel.
Well damn, that was slightly easier to write than expected! I hope you all enjoyed it, and that it was worth the ridiculously long wait, and please remember than reviews mean the world to me. (Seriously, they make me so happy, like you don't even know.)
Another thing, guys: There's a poll up on my profile so you can vote on where the sequel's going to be set! That's right, you get a sequel, and maybe even a threequel. Hell, this might end up being a series. We just don't know. Nevertheless, thank you for reading, and I'll see you all next time! Bye~!