I found myself in front of the wall where the Cleaning Service had oozed out and started looking for secret levers, sliding panels or key holes. I was afraid to actually touch the wall for fear it was covered in acidic slime. That stuff burned (and probably scarred). I figured I had a handful of minutes before I had to go around for another pass when a hand came through the wall, grabbed me by the front of my cloak and pulled me into darkness.
Turns out Johann was not dead. Paul would be so happy, you know, if I hadn’t killed him. Johann was a tall woman with a mole above her left eyebrow the size of my thumb. I tried not to stare at it when she talked, but it looked more and more like a thumb out of the corner of my eye. Finally I had to stare, because I was positive it had a thumbnail. For the record, it did not. It was just a mole. A very large mole, that talked to Johann, but that’s for later.
Johann was also young, well, young for what I expected here. I think maybe thirty summers, with a figure like Sister Agnes. There were curves and dimples, and a shock of black hair that seemed to suck in the light. I offered to remove the mole, but she grew angry, saying it was her cursed twin who spoke to her and helped her when she got into trouble. Father Mulcahy, I’m no expert, but I was pretty sure it was just a mole and poor Johann was just nutty. I thought I’d keep an open mind, however and spent a lovely hour speaking with her and her twin.
See, unlike the sneak-thief wererat, Paul. Johann was a scholar of antiquities and had come here with Rufus to study the ruins. He had come to her in her dreams, well into her mole’s dreams apparently, which caused her to give up her career at the university in Skyfell, one of the closest surviving cities to the west. This is where Rufus had studied last and his eccentric ways had intrigued Johann. So, when he put out a mental call to the mole, she dropped her studies, sold her family jewels and made her way here. Turns out Rufus thought Johann was an idiot and after three days, shunted her here in this pseudo-dormitory region where he could find her and discuss findings, if he had a mind, but really he wanted to sleep with her. Just like Paul.
Johann did not want to sleep with weasel gnome, nor wererat Paul. She was a devout scholar who had no time for trysts. Besides, she informed me that as the older sibling, her mole had to be wed before she could even consider such a relationship. I’m thinking she’s going to die alone and unloved. Which would be totally fine if that’s what she wanted, but it turns out she wanted to understand the nature of the truly divine worship of our order. That in and of itself is a longer story.
Johann had discovered this secret store room some time ago and realized that the Cleaning Service only came into this area a short way before sitting idle for thirty minutes, then exiting the same way he came in. The doorway would be accessible for almost a full minute at that point, then become solid again. The trick, she informed me, was in having a highly accurate internal clock, while understanding the smell of the Cleaning Service, and the nature of the original purpose of this chamber.
To call this a storage room would be an understatement. There were six rooms off a central chamber, each chock full of crates and barrels of various and sundry supplies. Johann pointed out that the entire place was managed . Once an item was placed in the room appropriate for its contents, the item would remain fresh and whole, no matter how long it was there. She found a dozen casks of wine, as many with beer and one with water that had always remained full no matter how much she drank.
There was food stuff in another room, grain and cheese (oh, Father, the cheese), as well as eggs and meats that were as fresh as if they had been newly slaughtered. One could live here for the rest of their natural days without a want in the world.
You know, except for company, entertainment, liturgy, worship. Hiding here was a way to sustain her life, but it was no life to live. She and I discussed this as well. It was an eventful hour.
The Cleaning Crew showed up again, interrupting our conversation. It didn’t try to attack us. Instead is sat there, vibrating like a cat purring. Then, at the appointed time, it slithered out. It was just amazing. I mentioned the skull and femur and that Paul had assumed it was her. She laughed a grim laugh and said Paul was a cad. I let her know he was dead, and left out the fact I was the one to kill him. As a matter of fact, I went ahead and confessed that I had killed all the strange and undead creatures in this entire wing. I thought she may be angry about me hurting her friends, or upsetting the ecosystem, but she was just relieved.
The ghast’s moaning had nearly driven them all insane. I eyed her askance, not daring to discuss sanity.
We had a lovely meal together and I told her about my life. She was quite intrigued. As a scholar of antiquities I peppered her with questions about the ruins we resided in, and about the kingdom that had once ruled this region. It was a bit of a mixed bag, that conversation. On one hand, she laughed at me, explaining that the rumors of the Nine and Sixty Kingdoms was based on folk tales and that a great earth quake had struck this region in the last thousand years or so, which explains the ruins, etc. The swamp a matter of shifting water basin and this acidic region a direct correlation to the ruling dragon. She found my beliefs in an ancient kingdom to be quaint and backward. But she did not berate me for that. Just patted me on the thigh and scooted closer to me.
Then she asked me to explain about our order and more importantly, the manner of our worship. Let’s just say we used most of the water in an impromptu cleaning ritual and the afternoon went on from there.