Rogue Stranger - The Mist - Chapter 32 - The Challenge of Castamir

Réllika stood to an expressionless attention inside Castamir's cavern. Her company waited hauntingly outside, awaiting their next orders and eyeing passing Seerganash. It was only a few members of the Hunting Party; the rest were still hounding the tunnels for any lingering clues.
"He is dead, you say?" Castamir inquired.
"Dead. Shirnar's arrows do not go astray, and when they hit, they do not strike lightly." Réllika replied.
"Are you sure that the blood was his?"
"Beyond all doubt. I obtained a sample if you wish to inquire further," Réllika said, stiffly holding out a small vile of blood while maintaining her position of attention. Castamir was her superior, and she his subordinate.
"I expected nothing less of you; you have yet to fail my expectations Captain, yet," Castamir said, taking the vile and studying it. While his face was turned, the slightest hint of prideful smile twitched in Réllika's eyes, but only for a glimmer of a second before her emotionless face returned to its rapt attention. "But nothing of the girl?"
At the mention of this Réllika's face almost twitched with a scowl, and her tone seemed slightly more edgy. "I was given specific orders not to search for her, but only for Larenteth, unless she was in my view."
"Yes, but did you not stop to think that perhaps he had escaped to find her, to tell her something, to help her, or seek help for her? Did you not think that following a clue from Rowen would not also lead you to Larenteth? Not up to your usual standards Captain. I guess my expectations must be for you to strictly follow orders, but I am disappointed in this. Before Rowen came your party had never failed, and now just because of one girl your company fails to catch even the youngest elf here? Do not make me dissatisfied, Captain. Dismissed."
Réllika, her face as stony and expressionless as ever, if not a little ashen, stiffly bowed and existed. She returned to her company silently, a scowl creeping further down her face as she saw them. As soon as she has vaulted onto her horse, the company turned and galloped downwards passed the furnaces and on the way to their chambers. At the horse enclosure, each dismounted and left their tired horses for care. Four straight days of riding without food, drink, or rest was normal for the hunting party, and the horses, though tired, were not desperate for a rest.

As Réllika stalked down the halls, all of the lesser Seerganash (and many of the higher Seerganash) fled before her scowl. She passed into the halls where Seerganash women and girls were trained, her leather boots creaking as she walked. No one wanted to mess with Réllika, especially if she looked the least bit annoyed. Her appearance alone was quite intimidating, to say nothing of her reputation. She wore a high collared black shirt and thick black pants that tucked into her high leather boots. Over her black shirt, she also wore a low cut, short-sleeved shirt of thick black leather. Long black leather armbands bedecked her wrists, extending to her hands.
Seerganash female children were not born as often as males, but when they did they were reared harder. By tradition going back to the first Seerganash women, girls were to be hardened and whipped into shape lest they become weaker than the men. Réllika had always been an issue, for she did not want to be harsh but she desired to be sweet and caring, with false ideas of motherhood. Her mother, a weakling herself, was killed for letting her daughter conceive such ideas. So the training women had been toughest on Réllika, whipping her twice as often and letting her go days without food and water until she was broken into cruelty. Now no one worked harder or endured more pain so easily as did Réllika.

As the company followed their captain through this hall, a young girl with shining black hair that was slightly below her shoulders was not quite quick enough in getting out of the way. She looked up with big eyes as Réllika stopped in front of her, an annoyed look adding to the already present scowl. Suddenly Réllika looked thoughtful for a moment, and abruptly grabbed the girl's hair and sheared it off with one sweep of her sword.
"I trust in the future," She announced loudly, "that those in charge of the girls will keep their hair at the correct length?" And then she stalked out of the cavern, boots trampling the shorn hair on the ground.
When she had gone, the women gasped a unison sigh of relief and thanked the spirits that it had not been any of their heads that came off instead of the hair.

Upon reaching their chambers, the Hunting Party stood to attention, awaiting dismissal from Réllika. What she had to say was not heartening to any of them.
"Castamir is displeased. I am beyond displeased. Once we are fed and watered, we are going straight back out to the tunnels. And if any of you falters due to exhaustion, that elf and I will be having a chat."
The Party shuddered. A "chat" with Réllika was not full of too much talking, though screaming was often heard.
"Oh, and we are going back to ultimate training in a fortnight. Dismissed."

Once Réllika had returned to her room, she existed out a small round tunnel that she had found. On the other side was a cavern of water, full of stones that contained a natural phosphorescent and gave a dim blue glow to the cavern. With strong arms she lifted up a small boulder and heaved it onto the stone below her, smashing it into hundreds of pieces that splashed into the water. Her self-anger released, Réllika slid down the wall behind her and kneaded her knuckles into her forehead. Of course! How could she have been so stupid? Perhaps she was not as brilliant as she thought she was. No, it had only been a small slip up. There would be no more. She would find Rowen, and then Castamir would realize the true strength of her mind. Why could he not already? Why not choose her to rule with him? Oh how willingly she would.... But no, he wanted Rowen's wit. Réllika clenched her fists. Rowen? She would be a nuisance. If only Réllika could kill Rowen, then her problem would be solved. But to do that would be to disobey Castamir's orders, and she could not do that. She would have to prove herself to him.
Réllika released her thick, soft hair from its tight braid, letting it fall around her shoulders. Tomorrow they would have to ride harder.

Lost in her thoughts, Réllika did not notice for a long time the odd sound that penetrated the cavern air echoed of the walls. The sound grew, becoming louder than dripping water, and on the other side of the cavern a figure suddenly dropped out from a tiny hole near the ceiling. Réllika snapped her head up, her sword instantly in her hand, as she watched the figure land with a thud on the ground below and moan in pain. She realized that the cloak it wore was Seerganash, and her fire sense told her that this figure must be kindred. Hastily, Réllika sheathed her sword and jumped down to help the figure. The female figure was not unconscious, but the face and hair were covered in black soot and dust. The figure breathed hard in exhaustion and went limp in Réllika's grip. From what she could tell, it looked as if this figure had not eaten, drunken, or slept in several days. Réllika awkwardly dripped water down the girl's throat, not used to taking care of anything. As she was doing so, she looked strangely at the cloak. It seemed oddly familiar.... With wide eyes she found the name in it: Shirnar. Réllika looked up as the water she was pouring missed its mark and ran down the face of the girl, washing off the soot: two black burn stripes lined the cheek. Furious and astonished by now, Réllika ripped the cloak off washed the rest of the soot from her head.

So this was Rowen.

Working quickly, Réllika bound her with black rope. As she was doing so, she noticed a black chain dangling around Rowen's neck. She pulled it off: it was the Master Key. With triumph Réllika pocketed it. Castamir would surely be proud of her now; she had both Rowen and Key. No need to mention that Rowen had fallen literally right at her feet.

So busy was Réllika in her pleasure and gazing over the Master Key that she did not pay much attention to Rowen. But Réllika paid dearly for her lack of attention, for a blow to the back of her knees sent her sprawling on the ground. With lightning quick reflexes, she wrenched her sword from its hilt and rose to strike her attacker. Yet even as she did so, she only glimpsed the vision of the charred remains of the rope she had tied Rowen with left limply upon the stone before a heavy blow to her head sent her flying into the wall. Blinking blood and dust out of her eyes, Réllika saw Rowen disappear into a tunnel.
Furious, Réllika staggered to her feet, groping her pocket. Ah, at least Rowen had not realized the Master Key was missing, and it still remained in Réllika's pocket. She could just tell Castamir she had found the key, and leave Rowen out of the whole thing.
Réllika ran down the tunnels to seek out Castamir. He would be in the dungeons now, smirking at Jack. Réllika did not know much about Jack, other than the fact that he bore a striking resemblance to Castamir. A small matter was he! Castamir would easily beat him. Castamir does not go soft. And now Castamir had the Master Key, as the rightful Lord of the Seerganash should.

*********

Hours later, Castamir was still grinning at the thick, heavy key in his hands. At last, the Master Key was his. Perhaps Réllika deserved more credit in her workmanship, though the blood running down her face had given him reason to ponder the means she had used to obtain the key. He had praised her nonetheless, and was quite frankly shocked and slightly shaken by seeing the corners of her mouth lift into a grin when she turned to leave. He did not believe he had ever seen that elf smile.
Castamir was also in quite a happy mood for one reason in particular: he would be challenging Jack to a final fight now. It was time to settle what had been left long unattended. Castamir picked up his sword and mounted Kaytar - the match would be held outside of the mountain, in a valley on the side.


Outside, the mist around the valley was parted, created what seemed like a fogless vortex walled on all sides with the thick black smoke. Fires danced and brightly alighted the ring. On the other side, the black-cloaked figure of Jack stood stiffly and quietly. His head was shrouded by his hood. Though Castamir would like to see his face, he did not make complaint of the hood. He would see his face eventually. Very few guard were here, for this was a small personal matter for Castamir to deal with, but what Jack didn't know was that the entire of the ring, hidden by the mist, was surrounded with a wall of sheer cliff; the valley was a hole in the mountainside left by prehistoric glaciers that had once dwelled there. The only dip in the wall of rock was a sheer cliff that dropped to a river below on the far side.
Castamir walked out into the ring, and so did Jack, though he needed a little bit of a shove. Castamir boldly drew his sword, swinging it to his left hand. Jack, still shrouded in cloak, awkwardly drew his sword, but stayed it in his right hand. "What's the matter, Jack? Afraid to use your inherited skill? Ashamed of Cathrandar are we? I don't understand why he ever chose you over me! You always hated him, you always disobeyed and got away with it anyway, refused his orders.... I was his true heir. I was oldest, most cunning, eager to learn from him. It is your fault I got moved to second best! And your still ashamed of how you became favorite, aren't you?" Castamir sneered, enjoying the lack of response. "'I didn't mean to, I didn't know, it wasn't my fault, how could this happen, I hate you...' You remember those words, don't you Jack? Or have you blocked them out by now? Need a refresher to your memory? I believe those were your whining pleas after what you did. You still hate yourself for it, don't you, you murderer? Tsk, tsk, all those poor innocent people, and so many! `So cunning! So brilliant! My Jack! I'll make a son of you yet!' You remember that little chat with Cathrandar, don't you? I would have killed you before had it not been for him. You can only imagine my joy when you ran away, and Cathrandar's rage. So how's life as an exile?"
When Jack did not respond to any of this, but rather stood blankly, Castamir became impatient. "Alright, let's finish this."

And the match began.

Castamir shot forward with every offensive tactic he could muster, but Jack did not fight back - he merely evaded the sword blows. It was nothing like the match they had started before, which had been full of swords clashing. Then, strangely, Jack flung his sword from his hand and struck Castamir's, causing both brother swords to go flying away. Now that they were in hand-to-hand combat, Jack drove forward. In and out he spun, agilely evading blows, and taking any that hit without much stagger. He punched Castamir across he face, then dropped to the ground and flung his leg out, tripping Castamir to the ground. As Castamir fell, his hand hit the hilt of his sword that still lay on the ground. In a wild fury the raised it and charged at the unarmed Jack, his green eyes suddenly turning a violent red. Jack, who had been gazing at something in the distance, hesitated in shock and barely blocked the oncoming sword with his arm as Castamir pinned him to the ground, eyes still a fiery red.
But as Jack hit the ground, his hood fell off, and Castamir's face, an inch from what he thought was Jack, gasped in alarm.

The that met Castamir's eyes, which were now fading from their red, was staring at the person whom Castamir's sword had hit through the arm, and it was not Jack.

It was Rowen.

And Rowen, her eyes distracted by something behind Castamir, quickly reached her head up and confused Castamir with a long kiss to keep him from turning around until...

Bam!

The real Jack's foot came out of nowhere and knocked Castamir off balance. Jack pulled Rowen up by the arms and swung her up, but did not stop swinging. Rowen extended her foot as Jack swung her around and struck Castamir across the face.
"Got it?" Rowen whispered to Jack as they turned and fled.
"Got it," Jack replied, holding something in his hand.

They ran until they came to the cliff, the only gap in the wall. It was a sheer drop to an uncertain river below.
"Are you sure about this?" Jack yelled.
"We don't seem to have a choice," Rowen replied, "I hope Larenteth knew what he was talking about, and I hope you are right in saying what it means."

And with that, they jumped off the side and disappeared into the water below.

Chapter 1: http://www.theonering.com/docs/9127.html
Chapter 31: http://www.theonering.com/docs/11298.html

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Author's Note: I am very sorry in how delayed this chapter was, I'm afraid I am rather run down from the last three weeks or preparation and playing of pops, a concert put on by our school that is the biggest even of the year.

I really appreciate comments and like to hear what you think of my story, good and bad, so please comment if you can! It really helps, and I sometimes get ideas... you all owe Rowen's fight with Castamir to Leslie

*Aduial*

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