Day 9, 1641 words and a total of 14 335 words!

The sun was just about to set once more as the rest of the stickmen crowded through the gate of the castle and into the grounds, looking around them in excitement.

After managing to get a fire going, Stikky and Leddy had explored the first few metres of one of the tunnels, finding to their delight that large, metal lanterns lined the walls, each one filled with unburnt oil.

“I expect these would’ve lit up all these tunnels once.” Leddy observed, lifting one of the lanterns off its peg and peering into it. “They’re pretty full… it looks like someone refilled these just before these people left. And it can’t have been very long ago—as in, not hundreds and hundreds of years—otherwise this oil wouldn’t be here.”

Stikky nodded, unhooking a second lantern and turning to go back outside. “You coming?” he called, his voice echoing through the narrow passageway eerily.

Quickly following him, Leddy caught up just as they emerged out of the archway and back into the castle grounds.

“Well?” asked Steik, who’d been watching for them from his spot at the campfire. “Did you find anything?”

The two held up their lanterns. “Filled with unlit oil!” Leddy exclaimed. “And there’s however many more in there; I think that’s what gives light to the tunnels.”

Pulling a stick from the edge of the fire—smouldering, but not alight—Stikky blew on the end gently until a small flame appeared. Holding his lantern up, he lit first his and then Leddy’s lanterns.

Holding their lights up, the two grinned in satisfaction.

“We’ll only need one, I think.” Stikky decided, extinguishing his lantern and placing it gently on the ground. “If any of you need to go away from the fire,” he added. “Light that lantern and take it with you.”

Turning around once more, the two began to walk back into the archway they had come out of—Leddy holding the solitary lantern—when the twins hailed them from their spot around the fire.

“Where’re you guys going?” Stif asked in curiousity.

“And can we come too?” Stib added.

Turning, Leddy looked at them. “We’re just going to do a bit of exploring, aren’t we, Stikky?” he replied, winking at his friend. “And we may as well light all the lamps as we’re doing it.”

“Because, of course…” Stikky continued. “You guys don’t want to have to climb down and then up those stairs just to have breakfast tomorrow, do you?”

The twins nodded. “How about us two go down the middle tunnel?” Stif asked, getting to his feet and pulling his brother up alongside. “That way we can explore twice as much!”

Stikky shrugged. “You don’t need to ask me!” he told them. “Just light up the tunnels as you go along, got it?”

Taking two burning branches from the fire and handing one to Stif, Stikky turned and carried the other towards the first tunnel, closely followed by Leddy with the lantern.

Holding the burning end of the stick to a lantern on the wall, he watched in satisfaction as it flared up, casting an identical orange glow to the one made by Leddy’s lamp.

Waving goodbye to the others and giving the twins a wink, Stikky and Leddy turned, gave each other a nod, and disappeared into the tunnel.

Stopping every few metres to light the lanterns, the two continued on down the narrow passage for several minutes, following its twists and turns for ages until they finally came to a T-junction.

Peering down the left passage while lighting another lantern at the same time, Stikky shrugged to his younger friend. “We may as well go down there as to the right.” he suggested, giving Leddy a questioning look. After receiving a quick nod, they turned left and continued to follow the tunnel.

As they moved slowly forward, the corridor began to grow wider.

Suddenly two archways appeared out of the darkness, both directly opposite each other on different sides of the tunnel.

Looking quizzically at Leddy, Stikky lit another lantern and lifted it off its hook, peering through the thin but tall arch into the room beyond.

It was quite a small room, the ceiling slightly higher than that of the tunnel outside. In the corner was an old bed, a set of shelves carved out of the rock, a block of stone that looked somewhat like a bench or table, and a smaller rock as a chair.

Stepping into the room, the two looked around them. Noting there was another unlit lantern hanging from a hook on the wall, Stikky used his now-smouldering stick to light it once more.

Walking over to the bed, Leddy sat down on it, raising a cloud of dust into the air as it gave a groan. Bouncing up and down on the mattress, he gave his friend a look of surprise.

“I thought this kind of stuff would have decayed by now!” he exclaimed, getting to his feet and feeling the bedding with a careful hand. “Or be beyond use, at any rate, but nope, this stuff is good enough to sleep on!”

Stikky nodded as they emerged out of the archway and crossed the corridor to look in the other room. It was almost identical, apart from being a little larger, and having two beds instead of one.

Lighting several more lanterns, and noting there were many such rooms along the corridor, each carved out of the rock and almost exactly alike, they realised this area was without a doubt where everyone had slept. After a quick count from the beginning of the long corridor to its end, they noted there was over a hundred rooms; enough for the entire group of stickmen without anyone having to share.

Stikky and Leddy nodded to each other; they had established sleeping places, at least they’d done that.

“Seeing as the tunnel ends here,” Stikky suggested. “Why don’t we go and explore in the opposite direction?”

Leddy nodded. It was a sensible idea. Almost obvious.

Turning, the two began walking off in the opposite direction, not knowing how much more they had to explore.

 

Stif and Stib traveled down the second tunnel in silence, lighting the lanterns along the tunnel just as Stikky and Leddy had done.

Presently they came to a set of crossroads, one a staircase that spiraled upwards, one a tunnel that sloped downwards, and one that continued straight on.

Stif looked at his twin. “Left?” he asked quizzically, lighting another lantern with his smouldering stick. Stib nodded, and they turned left to go up the spiralling staircase.

Lighting lanterns as they went, the two brothers continued up the steep steps until they emerged out of a large pillar in an enormous room.

The first thing they saw was the gigantic open window to the north of the cave, filling the entire room with cold, blue moonlight from the night sky.

Running to the window, they looked down out of the window, gasping as they looked around at the amazing view of the island by night, and then down at the castle below them, the remains of the campfire still smouldering.

“I guess they’ve all gone to bed…” Stif remarked softly.

Stib nodded. “I almost wish we were down there with them.” he added.

“What? You’d rather be down there snoring your head off than up here, in the middle of the night, exploring?” Stif replied, crossing his arms across his chest.

“I see you didn’t hear my ‘almost’, did you?” his brother retorted. “No, I shouldn’t have said that. It’s much nicer out here, even if it is a bit chilly.” He added, shivering.

Turning to get a better look at the rest of the room, they realised it had once been something close to an inventing lab, with cases filled with empty blueprints, benches, and shelves, making it look a lot like Destick’s Lair.

“I bet Stikky’ll love this!” Stif exclaimed, grinning.

His brother nodded. “C’mon,” he decided. “Let’s go back down and follow the tunnel that sloped downwards. Who knows, it might even lead down to the bottom of the mountain!”

After traveling down the tunnel to the right for several minutes, Stikky and Leddy emerged into a larger cavern with a taller roof, unlit lanterns hung around its perimeter.

Stikky, slightly tired by their long journey through the dark and not thinking properly, hurried ahead of his younger friend slightly.

“Look out!”

Windmilling his arms wildly, Stikky swayed on the edge of a dark, black pit, his eyes wide as he tried to keep his balance.

Grabbing him by his shirt, Leddy yanked him backwards, and they collapsed just beside the dark hole.

Clambering up, Stikky grinned apologetically as he pulled his younger friend to his feet. “Thanks for that,” he replied ruefully, picking up the lantern and giving it back to Leddy. Retrieving his smouldering stick, he relit it once more in the burning lamp and peered carefully over into the darkness of the pit.

“What’s this hole for?” Stikky asked himself aloud, almost crossly. “It’s a bit dangerous…”

“Actually,” Leddy replied, realisation dawning on him. “I think this might just be the way down…”

Stikky stared at him. “How do you make that out?” he asked, scratching his head.

“Well,” Leddy explained, pointing to a winch suspended above the hole, a length of chain wrapped around it. “Look at that… Either this is a well, or…”

Pulling on the handle of the winch, he cranked around and around for a few minutes until a large bucket-like container came up out of the darkness, with railing around it and a narrow gate at the centre.

Leddy nodded, grinning in satisfaction. “And…” he continued, peering a little to the left. “There’s a staircase here, I expect that’s for the people who didn’t want to take the quick way down…”

Stikky tested the bucket carefully with a foot. It felt firm… at least, firm enough…