A lone elf stood waiting at the base the roaring falls. His face was stiff with cold mist and he stood unmoving, eyes fixated upon the base of the waterfall. The mark upon the horse, idly standing nearby, was that of a dragon wing; the elf was a Seerganash. His job was to wait for Jack’s body to resurface, then bring it to the head of his order. Standing slightly downstream from the rapids, the elf watched for any mark of black cloak caught on a rock or log. He had been there all day, but never moved. Yet thoughts flashed across his mind – why was it taking so long? He knew he had not missed the body, but it was so long in resurfacing. Assuming the body was caught under a rock or still turning in the cascading water, the elf had kept his position. Now that the sun was setting, he walked to the edge of the water for a closer look in the dim twilight. As he peered into the dark water, even his sharp eyes saw no sign of the body. So he turned to go –
A pale, wet hand few out of the water below the rock and grabbed his ankle.
The elf cried out, but the yell was cut short as his leg was dragged out from under him and his chin hit the ground. The next thing he knew, a wave of cold water drenched him as a dark shape pulled itself out of the water, pinning itself on top of him. The elf tried to call out again, but that soaked hand covered his mouth. His heart race accelerated as the dark face above him, silhouetted against the advancing night sky, piercingly stared at him with dark eyes. The hand was removed from his mouth, and the dark face spoke to him in a low, waterlogged, growling tone.
“Where is she?”
Rowen was again put on Castamir’s horse, though she was glad for this. The rest of the elves did not talk unless something important had to be stated, or they were asked something by Castamir. They were far less inviting as well, and the only recognition they gave Rowen was to stare at her as if studying her. Of course they were not fair in the way of elves, but neither was Jack for that matter. But Jack was weather-roughed from travel – these elves were just fell. Instead of being roughed from travel and work, they were worn from sinister plotting and willing self-corruption. You could see it in their empty jade eyes – there was just nothing left in them but hate. It was sad to behold.
So they rode north, plodding relentlessly on, never stopping. How Castamir knew where he was going was a mystery to Rowen – the Mist was growing thicker, if that was even possible. The Iron Hills loomed closer now, thought Rowen could not see them. Without a command, the company of black horses jolted into full gallop. They were not yet at the mountains, but in front of them out of the Mist loomed a large rock – the horses kept on galloping. Right before they reached it, the rock face groaned open, splitting into two doors. When the horses reached it, Castamir in the lead, they never wavered their speed and plunged into the tunnel of rock, suddenly turning into a near-vertical ground. But the black stallions sped on, never faltering on the rocky ground, which was now invisible in the complete darkness. With a thud of hooves the ground leveled out, though still pitch black. The enclosing ground absorbed all the sound for a while, and Rowen almost fell asleep again in the darkness. Then the echoing began – they company entered stone. The only signifier of this was the noise; the darkness was still impermeable.
Four hours later, still in gallop, the sound of hooves began to be accompanied by another metal clang. These clangs grew in number, and in volume. The air around them grew stiffer and hotter, and the metallic clashes rang loudly, now even over the clatter of hooves. Abruptly a dim red glow began to grow around them, and ahead if reflected off the wall as the tunnel rounded a corner. The horses flew around the corner with amazing agility, right into a bright room full of blazing inferno. Rowen blinked in the suddenly bright light, then her eyes went wide. The cavernous room was filled with hundreds and hundreds of elves, their faces black with soot as they poured over the fires and metal works. Castamir’s company stampeded right through, their black capes billowing out behind them as their black stallions never altered their constant gallop. The working elves moved aside easily as if by habit. Rowen’s wide eyes and dropped jaw followed the hall around as they whipped through, until a jerk of gravity told her they were back into a near-vertical incline. The bright light was shut off momentarily to a soft red glow as they flew up the tunnel. The tunnel was slightly cool, but it began to warm back up as a fiery bright glow grew at the top. Castamir’s horse, still in lead, leaped out of the tunnel and onto a ledge, stopping right at the edge. The rest of the company followed, except when they reached the top they turned backward and galloped on their own business down the hall. But Rowen too much in shock to notice. She was atop a horse, which was standing on a ledge, 100 feet of sheer rock, above a fathomless floor of complete obsidian rock, carved and inscribed with layers of symbols and writing, some seemingly very far down, all wreathed in rings upon rings of flames.
Castamir leaned his head down to Rowen’s ear, brushing against her face.
“Welcome, Rowen, to the great hall of the Seerganash.”
Chapter 1: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9127.html
Chapter 2: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9141.html
Chapter 3: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9184.html
Chapter 4: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9263.html
Chapter 5: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9297.html
Chapter 6: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9307.html
Chapter 7: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9356.html
Chapter 8: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9422.html
Chapter 9: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9472.html
Chapter 10: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9530.html
Chapter 11: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9566.html
Chapter 12: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9603.html
Chapter 13: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9616.html
Chapter 14: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9629.html
Chapter 15: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9658.html
Chapter 16: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9678.html