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"Star Keys" (Dark Ancients: the Battle Begins)

In a room of Castle of the Caves bitty feet scrape rough rock.

Furry and happy creatures called Waisals have been displaced. With excellent senses and their own communication skills, their numbers have shrunk. Ze’s arrival disturbed habitats of Waisal. Half-the-size of Gameonites, nonetheless humanoid, these elfin creatures interpret voice and language, yet cannot speak anything but their own gibberish. Uncanny, neither the magician, Gortian, nor others know of Waisal abilities. Earlier, the furry-backed, strange looking ones had sensed Toxaris as a unique person whom they might signal to. On different worlds of an O-8 order, organisms have learned to adapt in unique and often strange ways. Red giants, medium-yellow-suns, white dwarfs, many stars might be capable of fostering, sustaining varied forms of life.

Waisal are keenly aware of all that has happened here and of Borzoyle’s plans. Talking with one another, they shiver. Ze has cost many small and harmless creatures their lives. Deke and Duke, two young friends, have whispered. Intent on stopping the maiming, experimentation, and torture of their kind they want their home back.

“I can’t believe he’s getting away with all this,” Duke says to Deke.

Fuzzy feet with sharp claws dig to earth and each run across a chamber-room, a part of the foreboding, holocryptic castle.

“There must be something we can do,” Deke says and her tiny pug nose she claimed cold today.

“I hope so, Deke.” One hand of Duke combs and scratches thick fur on his back.

Deke’s short brown nose wiggles. Surveying the scene, he gently rests one hand against stone and his bare feet set on the earth floor of the caves.

She bites her nails and goes on. “You know I fear the sorcerer doing more damage to our kind. Conditions with Knorr, Gorts, and an evil wizard have not been good.”

“Right,” says Duke. Shaking his head, he frowns.

“It is so bad,” she goes on. “We have had to hide within deep chambers, sometimes within walls and in deep places not so pleasant, here. Freedom—we do not have it any more. We can’t even go outside during the day without fear of being found, cut, and, eek, thrown on the fire to be cooked and eaten by something ugly.”

“Pugh,” Duke gasps. One foot pats soil.

Deke’s adorable, brown, eyes water. “I won’t choose to live, hiding in scum all my life,” she claims upset.

“I know, I know, Deke.” Duke rolls soft eyes. He looks to see her sniff and nods in agreement.

Balancing his body on the cave floor, where they hide, his nose twits once more and his eyes roll up; and Duke seems to sniff for something that might be good to eat. Torg, Trot, Gripe, often leave crumbs of food about the room. Smaller than little Gameonites, Deke and Duke have not had much to eat this month.

“I agree with you and others. You know that. Our numbers have dwindled,” Duke goes on and his eyes dart constantly. “I’m always on the lookout for trouble. Gathering hammett, scrout, moc, and sclams from the river, it’s hard to keep from being noticed. I know, Deke,” he says and he nibbles at crumbs. “Um,” he groans, eating. “Before long, there won’t be anything left of us. We won’t have a future if someone doesn’t do something to stop this man,” he chatters, lamenting. “Here,” he says and gives her something to chew on.

Outside the caves: “Bam! Bam! Bam!”

Knorr and Borzanite hammer massive stones. Ghouls dig ditches for a new irrigation system Borzoyle has planned for waterways and fields.

Inside, Deke trembles. Like Duke and friends, she’s seen Borzoyle’s eerie activities in lower chambers of the winding caves. She’s seen new creations there.

Now, “Bring the stones here,” Grunt orders Getnyun and help-mates.

Knorr, work outside a window of the chamber where little elfin Waisal talk and wrinkle faces.

Oddities of nature, they both swim well and dig quickly in soil. Sharp claws help grub for tubers or stick at fish that might need cooking, eating.

“Do you hear them?” Deke speaks up. She listens and then nibbles like Duke.

Tiny, furry ears perk up, the elf half-humanoid, half animal. She looks to the hole in the cave wall and stares to those, walking by. Then she turns Duke’s way.

“They’ve driven us from the river,” she goes on. “They’ve tortured our young and old. And they’ve created misfits that, from time to time, run in chambers. They threaten virtually every decent thing that lives in these lands, Duke,” she rambles on. Nerve-wracked and out of sorts, her tiny arms move left, right. “Now he has these ogres siding with him.”

“Yes. Again, I know, I know,” he repeats. “Now, there must be a way we can help,” Duke thinks and one furry foot lifts and scratches a leg. With furry elfin ears, he goes on. “We can’t be reduced to a few families living deep inside this stinky cellar, as you say.” Pausing, he works his hand to food and then looks to her soft, brown eyes. “Take this for now.”

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