From the Author: Sorry it has been quite awhile getting this up, it has been an extremely busy school year for me.
If you wish to read Rogue Stranger, here is a link: https://www.theonering.com/search/results.cfm?Type=Articles&criteria=%22Rogue%20Stranger%22
Rogue Stranger is rather poorly written(it was my first story), and my writing has improved since then. I also have a website with pictures from that story, though they are old and not so good. The website is https://hometown.aol.com/aduialtwilight/rogue.html. It will also include pictures from this new story as I draw them and get them up.
The beginning of this story may be rather information-dense, but it will smooth out in the next few chapters. I hope you enjoy reading “Return to the Mist,” I have very many ideas for this story line and hopefully it shall turn out good Thanks for reading, and constructive critism in comments is always appriciated!!
Chapter 1 – The Invitation
Three men stood stiff and alert in the center of a stone hall, their hair short and groomed, their blue cloaks suffering no stain. They spoke cordially to their audience of two. Across the room sat, leaning back in his chair, a handsome elf. His black hair fell loosely unkempt and disorderly almost to his shoulders, some smaller strands trailing over his face or forehead. From underneath his impatient, downcast brow two incredibly intense green eyes glared out. Their haunting appearance was narrowed in dislike. Two muscular arms were folded over a chest that rose and fell every so often with an inaudible sigh of annoyance, stretching the well-worn fabric of an evergreen tunic. A rougher-looking woman stood leaning against the wall in an uncaring manner. The three messengers tried not to glance at her often, for their stares held marked disapproval. Her skin was copper and specked at some places with ornate black-burned scars, most of her own doing. Two yellow eyes were obviously bored, looking out from under a mess of dry, tangled, and burnt black hair that fell roughly over her shoulders and down her back. Two pointed ears peaked out of the mess, thought she was not elf. A crimson-dyed outfit of roughly cut and stitched suede leather, well worn and flexible, consisted of a thick long piece that ran around her chest and a tunic-like skirt that was tied around her waist with a cord of leather. She had thick brown boots that were bulky and well worn. Finally, rings of pure gold looped around her upper arms, and around her wrists two huge, thick, seamless bands of heavy gold, at least three inches wide and almost a fifth of an inch thick, fit tightly and rigidly. Her scowl completed the savage look, set lazily inside a face that was burned with two horizontal stripes of black across the right cheek.
“…This is formally your invitation to a gathering of all beings of this Middle Earth. Great matters need to be discussed and it is highly recommended you send someone,” the speaking messenger finished. The savage woman by the wall stifled a yawn, resisting the urge to smile out of joy that the man had simply stopped talking.
A cry of laughter rang out in the hall just then. Two figures, the first male the second female, went dashing past the door of the conference hall, one chasing the other. Another bout of laughter rang out, followed by a shout and clang. The girl had apparently caught the elf she was chasing.
“Ow, Lily! Did you have to tackle me? Can’t you just ever tag me or something?”
“Nope!” Another burst of laughter echoed down the hall, followed shortly by another bang and clatter. Something amid the din shattered, causing the laughter to be quickly stifled. Quieted, hurried footsteps ran back down the hall as the two scurried away from the scene in attempt to avoid suspicion.
“Such stealth those two have, don’t they?” The green-eyed Jack said with a lopsided grin to Rowen, his savage-looking friend. His random change of subject and lack of courtesy displayed the obvious disdain Jack held for the messengers – he completely ignored their question.
They had arrived only a short while ago and already both Jack and Rowen held little respect for them. Indeed, each of the haughty messengers looked highly affronted at the intrusion. Rowen, who was standing by the door, reached out behind her without looking and caught a handful of two cloaks as they whooshed by. A choking noise, follow by coughing, brought the spotlight to the two figures that soon tumbled into the room. The messengers stepped backward and looked down their noses at the rough elves, these adults acting like children. The male elf had long black hair that was tied behind his neck, leaving two long pieces in front, and the girl had thick, wavy hair that curled under neatly halfway down her upper arms. It has the quality of looking neat even though it was tousled and windblown from running.
“This is Larenteth,” Jack introduced, pulling up the male elf, “and this is Lily,” he finished as the girl got up and brushed herself off. “They have…positions in our leadership,” Jack added, somewhat hesitantly as the messengers skeptically eyed the childish grins on the two adult faces. He held back a smile as he said innocently, “Would they be candidates for the invitation you are offering?”
The messenger looked between the two of them as they stood side by side. “Are these two… together?” He asked cautiously. Before anyone could say anything, Lily stepped forward and wrapped herself around Larenteth, adoringly nuzzling his shoulder.
“Why, yes of course! Larenteth is my lover,” She said in all seriousness, blinking her green eyes up at him lovingly.
“Yes that is quite right,” Larenteth added, running his hand through her hair. Rowen and Jack stepped up and peeled the now-giggling pair off of each other, though not without a grim smile. The messengers were obviously displeased, though such a question should not have been asked in the first place. It did, however, give just one more reason not to like or respond well to these envoys.
“No, they are not. They are the closest thing to brother and sister that you can get without being blood-related,” Jack informed the three men, who had their eyebrows raised. “They are also the youngest and most efficient at mischief out of all the Seerganash, and they are also two elves that should not be in this wing right now,” Jack muttered under his breath, but out loud he repeated his question. “Would they be candidates?”
He turned around at the noise of slapping to find Larenteth and Lily leaning backwards from each other with their eyes shut in a hilarious imitation of a catfight.
Rowen didn’t even bother to turn around. “Don’t make me come back there,” She called.
The two stopped and looked innocently around. Rowen and Jack shook their heads, keeping their laughter to themselves.
The messengers eyed the two, some shaking their heads.
“Anyhow….” Jack began, but one of the messengers interrupted him, speaking in an undertone and gazing at the two elves behind them, who were now pulling each other’s hair.
“I would rather we speak alone, and not with children about.”
“Sure thing,” Jack replied wryly, trying to keep a civil tone. Larenteth and Lily, whose age was each the equivalent of more than twenty for mortals, looked highly affronted. Larenteth had to twist Lily’s arm to stop her from saying anything.
“Out,” Rowen said to the two, who grumbled their way out of the room. Jack shut the door before turning back to the messengers.
“You were saying?”
At last the messengers had gone, their fancy horses being directed by rough Seerganash guides through the thick black Mist that hung heavily over the land. They suffered to be blindfolded, though held obvious distaste. The strange Mist was the product of dragons, gathered in the valley of the Iron Hills over many years by the Seerganash themselves.
“Rude enough, do you think? I can’t believe I had enough will power to be civil enough not to say anything. First they demand come to the edge of the Mist and demand to see `The King of the Seerganash.’ Then they argue with the border guard that they manage to snarl about being blindfolded! I’m glad Lorena let them wander around coughing in the Mist before they agreed to be led. Though, honestly, I do think we should have left them in there to choke on smoke and be forever lost in fog. If I had known had bad they were before I would have never agreed to see them. Though, I doubt they wanted to see me anyway. I don’t know if you caught that little note they wrote down about harboring savages, but my ears picked it up. Aw, Jack you have no idea how much I just wanted to burn that short one to ash! And after criticizing us and our entire empire, they then invite us to a “ball.” Oh, how lovely, let me go find my evening gown and beaded slippers! Maybe I’ll try wrenching a comb through my hair. Send someone?! Are they crazy? There is no one to send!”
Rowen vented angrily as she and Jack left the conference hall. Deep in the colossal labyrinth of tunnels inside the mountains, the sole light of the torch reflected off Rowen’s irritated gold eyes. “Let’s see… who do we trust? You, me, Lee, Larenteth, Lily…. Well, Larenteth and Lily are definitely off the list, even if it was possible to separate the two. You can’t leave the Seerganash without a leader, especially at such at time… who knows what they would do? Probably start the war. They’re good men, but after so many years under your father and Castamir….”
“Even in death Cathrandar and Castamir have found ways to make my life more difficult than it should be,” Jack muttered, his mood equally foul.
“Lee doesn’t know enough to be a delegate, and she’s in the middle of training. We’ll never get her to leave. And I can’t leave! I need to keep working to try and untangle this mess of dragons. One more slip and we’ll get another explosive battle for dominance like we did two months ago.
Three years, Jack, you have been Master of the Seerganash, and it seems still like the second day.” Rowen rubbed her eyes. Her white-hot temper was easily flared and not so easily put out. Jack had known her long enough to know she was not used to letting people walk over her and had desperately wanted to teach the messengers a painful lesson.
“Well, I certainly don’t feel the need to go to some ball or other,” Jack said tiredly. “What are they going to have a conference about? I do wonder. Perhaps we should feel flattered that we were even offered an invite” – Rowen snorted – “that does mean they consider us one of the higher powers of Middle Earth.”
“Higher Powers? They’re scared! We live here alone hidden in the Iron Hills. Our black Mist has slowed in its creeping across their lands, but it still looms conspicuously. We’re the dark empire, locked away inside a mountain encased in a wall of Mist miles and miles and miles thick, guarded by dragons! Well, they probably think we have dragons working for us. Let’s let them think that. They just want to sink their teeth into us at some convention so they don’t have to worry about us taking over the world.”
“You know Rowen, for a savage you make a lot of sense,” Jack said. He barely avoided being punched. “I do feel we could have been more civil though, despite their arrogance,” – Rowen snorted again – “Well, I could have been more civil. You, my lady, are free to be as mean as you want.” This time, Jack didn’t duck in time and caught the full blow of quite a powerful punch.
“What did I say about calling me `my lady’?” She snapped good-naturedly. Jack only laughed.
Up ahead, the tunnel hall was pitch black; every torch had been extinguished. Jack sighed. “Looks like Larenteth and Lily had to find some other source of amusement. Next thing we know they will be cutting off bridges and killing people. I still can’t believe Larenteth is the elf that we trust with the last Master Key.
Rowen, will you please do the honors? With our luck some trap is probably ahead.”
Rowen nodded and held up her palms. In the dim light between the torches, the thick bands of dragon gold that hugged her wrists began to glow very faintly. An instant later liquid fire leapt from her hands, jumping to every torch all the way down the hall. Jack instinctually shielded his eyes from the bright light before blinking and moving on. The two kept walking down the familiar-looking hall, taking a few turns here and there, but when they arrived at an unfamiliar fork, both stopped dead in their tracks. “Oh no not again…” Rowen said, slapping her hand to her forehead.
“Don’t tell me….” Jack reiterated, doing likewise. Both sat down on the ground, back-to-back, and lapsed into forced thought. The scene was a common one when they walked alone. “Maybe Larenteth and Lily did this as a sign to not go this way?”
“Don’t tell me you two are lost again!” Came a familiar voice. Rowen and Jack looked up to see Leeriel, an elf that had helped them out three years back and had been a friend ever since. Her darkly tanned face displayed a knowing smirk.
“No, we just enjoy sitting in the middle of no where with absolutely no clue what tunnel we are in. You’ve lived in here your whole life – we’ve only been here three years. If you think it is easy to find one’s way around this insane unorganized labyrinth, then you got something else coming to you!” Rowen replied irritably, her temper still flared. They had gotten lost at least elven times in the last fortnight alone, not to mention the incredible number of times and hours each had spent in the last three years being lost. Each time they thought they were figuring it out… well, they discovered neither even have a clue. Mostly both needed an escort, but neither liked that. Especially Rowen, who had been highly independent her whole life.
Lee was used to Rowen’s fiery temper and took no offense to her outburst. “You really need to learn to deal with having an guard around to help you. Tell you what, I’ll be nice today and help you out.”
“Oh, thanks,” Jack replied sarcastically. He rolled his eerie green eyes and shook some dust out of his messy black hair. The ragged pieces hung in the front and never seemed to be neatly out of his face. All of the Seerganash had black hair, along with empty green eyes. Some said the green came from all of the trees and life they had destroyed, ironically preserving it forever only in their eyes. Jack’s eyes, though, Jack’s eyes were something else.
Lee looked back over her shoulder with a grin.
“Have I ever mentioned before how fun it is to have the Master of the Seerganash lost in his own halls and at my mercy?”
“Oh, yes, you’ve only mentioned that a couple thousand times… I haven’t tired of it yet, though, so please, with all means, proceed,” Jack muttered. Lee only grinned and kept walking.
Soon enough, the trio reached a tunnel they recognized. “You’re welcome!” Came the mocking voice that had led them there. Rowen and Jack looked up to only see Lee’s retreating form sprinting with controlled precision down a tunnel they did not know, fading into the subterranean murk.
“Back to her training, I presume,” Rowen sighed. Lee had been of a very low division of the Seerganash women, not even having a name. She was formerly known as “Thirty-Nine,” identifying her number in her regiment. Lee, however, had had the courage to help Rowen free Jack from imprisonment of his father just three years ago. On the way, Rowen threw her the name “Leeriel,” unaware of what it meant to give a subordinate Seerganash woman a name. Ever since “Lee,” as she was nicknamed, had now a new standing position and had restarted the ruthless training of the Seerganash women. Rowen had adamantly tired to abolish the merciless, cruel “training” practice that turned all the women of the Seerganash into lithe, cunning, skilled lethality. Such training had produced some of the most lethal killing machines Rowen had ever known, such as the former Warden of the Maidens, an elf named Nirah.
Even with Jack’s help, Rowen was unable to persuade the women to change such an attribute. Cruel as it was, they adored and took pride in their skill, creating a formidable army.
The only exception to this rigorous training was Lily, Larenteth’s constant companion. Lily was the “granddaughter” to Nirah, in a sense. Her mother had been Réllika, though Lily had never known it. Réllika was the second most lethal woman Rowen had ever known, being Nirah’s “work.” If Nirah was Réllika’s mother, no one knew.
Rowen had pushed for Lily to only be trained sometimes, leaving her to become a wild and incredibly witty mischief-maker.
Speaking of which, both Larenteth and Lily raced by suddenly. Jack reached out and caught Larenteth by the cloak. He fell to the floor with a gasp. Lily, who had gone on running, noticed she was no longer being chased and skidded to a halt, sliding onto her side.
“You two really need to act your age,” Jack advised them.
“Why?” Answered Lily, but Larenteth elbowed her in the ribs.
“OH!” I have something for you, Jack,” Larenteth said suddenly, as if he just remembered. Rowen audibly groaned when she saw the large letters URGENT on the document. Never, ever give that elf something urgent to deliver.
“Why, thank you ever so much for remembering,” Jack said as he too saw the urgency of the letter. Lily and Larenteth were gone in a flurry before another word could be said, and Jack paused to read the letter. His face went from grinning to ashen.
“What is it?” Rowen asked.
“Nothing,” Jack said – in a tone that obviously said it was something.
Rowen did not press it. She was as curious as anything, but Jack looked so wearied and stressed that she said nothing. He had been through a lot in the past few years, trying to clean up the mess his former brother had created.