Rowen woke up a little later, feeling refreshed and fiery: a very charged-up feeling as warm liquid settled in her stomach. What she actually awoke to was the soft voice of Larenteth singing in a low voice, drumming an odd little instrument. When he heard Rowen stir, Larenteth stopped and peered through the bars. “You okay there?”
“Um, yeah… where are we?” Rowen replied, aware that she had asked that question many times since she had met Castamir. She walked up to the bars right next to Larenteth.
“We’re in the east wing. Sorry about the bars, but its more to keep others out than you in.”
Rowen nodded, happy to have a courteous elf to talk to in this place. “So, who are you? I did not learn much from being hauled on your back for a few minutes.”
Larenteth laughed, his low ringing voice a merry change from the general majority of cruel elves. “Fair enough, seeing as I know more about you than you know.” Rowen gave him an alarmed look, producing another laugh from Larenteth. “Alright, alright. Well, my great grandfather was the head architect of this entire mountain Hall. I know almost every secret of this place, except those the mountain keeps itself and any my grandfather took to the grave.”
“He died? But are you not all elves?”
“That we are, but many die. Accidents, dragon incidents, fire, falling, murder. We are not too careful about safety, none of us care that much.”
“…Oh. What’s the chain around your neck?”
Larenteth looked uneasy, fingering the chain that was halfway hidden underneath his shirt. He looked into Rowen’s guiltless golden eyes and slowly pulled out the long, thick, black chain. On the end dangled a large key, decorative and old. The tip of the key protruded out like the symbol of the Seerganash, a dragon wing. “It’s the Master Key. The only one not lost in the Vantranack. Handed down from my grandfather. My father never got it; he was not entrusted with it. He died after attempting to steal it.”
“The great vortex of clear black stone in the middle hall. The circular one where Castamir held council. That floor… it wasn’t always that way. It was made when the dragons melted…” Larenteth caught himself, peering intently at Rowen’s innocent eyes. “How do you do that?”
“I just almost began telling you one of the most confidential secrets of my family, never mind of the Seerganash. Talking to you about the dragon years just seemed to slide off my tongue. What is it with you?”
“Hey, I was hoping you could tell me that.”
Larenteth smiled. “I may be one of the most intellectually intelligent of the Seerganash, but they don’t always tell me what’s going on. This domination stuff… I don’t get it. I just build and calculate what they tell me. They haven’t needed me to open one of the old vaults in awhile though – one of the uses of the master key. I don’t even know what’s inside them.”
They were interrupted by a scratching noise inside the stone walls. Rowen jumped, but Larenteth hushed her. “It’s alright, Castamir said that’s normal. It happens all the time in the east wing, though no one has ever figured out why. A few elves tried to find out once I remember, but they didn’t get far. One elf ran in the great hall during council and said he had found something, then ran back out. We never saw him again, but the wall where he was working, in this cell right over in that corner,” he pointed a rough gouge in the wall, crudely cemented back together, “collapsed, and when they removed the stones his body was not there. The rock underneath was smooth, and only his tools remained, but they were in pieces. So nobody checks out the noises anymore, they’re just there. Try to ignore them, they won’t hurt you.” Larenteth smiled again, a friendly smile.
“Ha, it’s nice to have a friend in here,” Rowen laughed.
“Yeah, I usually don’t have people to talk to. But it seems Castamir is a very nice friend to you,” Larenteth added with a grin. Rowen changed the subject.
“Please tell me Austel is not really fed to dragons!”
“Oh, no, let me guess… Rantar’s lies?” Larenteth answered. Rowen nodded. “Don’t worry, she’s still alive. I saw her earlier.” A look crossed Larenteth’s eyes and he seemed stuck in his own thoughts. Rowen watched him and grinned.
“You like her, don’t you?”
“No! Well,” Larenteth fingered the Seerganash key at his neck. “No.” He finished firmly.
Rowen nodded, but the grin was still splashed across her face. The door to the anteroom banged abruptly open, and Larenteth jumped up to salute the enterer.
“Larenteth, Grintash needs you for section 932. I know you have a post, but Castamir said it would only be a for a little while. Please report promptly. Password: Kintan.” With that both Larenteth and the elf left, leaving Rowen alone. She reached through the bars and picked up the instrument Larenteth had been drumming. It was made of wood… something unseen in the Seerganash halls. In truth, it was indeed the only wood for miles around since the coming of the Seerganash to the Iron Hills. It was ancient, brought from Lothlorien by Larenteth’s great grandfather. Rowen examined it, but her thought was interrupted by the scratching in the walls. She had been told to ignore it, but it still freaked her out. Especially the fact that she was barred in, and that the patched hole was inside her cell. Nervously, she strummed the little wooden instrument. The scratching stopped. Rowen tapped out rhythms, afraid to stop, for whenever she did the scratching began anew. Sitting huddled in the corner, Rowen drummed until she fell asleep. The torches burned low and went out.
Some time later, Rowen woke up to something soft brushing past her face. It was dark without the torchlight, but two glowing eyes peered at her in the darkness. A small nose sniffed at the gold bands on her arms, and the thing kept crawling around Rowen. She shifted her weight, causing Larenteth’s drum to fall off her lap in a hollow drum-clunk as it struck the ground. The golden glowing eyes jumped and backed away, then came forward to sniff the drum. Another small clunk revealed that the thing had picked up the drum and was now studying it. Rowen could vaguely see the drum reflected in the light of the eyes. Now Rowen knew how old that drum must be, and judging form its similarity to the master key, it was probably from Larenteth’s grandfather. So she knew she had to get it back, she shouldn’t have touched it in the first place. Rowen tried to snatch it away from the creature, but the creature jumped nimbly aside. A chase began, Rowen following the glowing eyes around her cell until finally the creature jumped into a hole it the wall… a hole that had not been there before. Seeing Rowen was not following, it turned around and gave one blink of its golden eyes before turning back down the smooth, narrow tunnel, still holding the drum. Rowen grabbed an unused torch, lit it with her hands, and jumped in down the tunnel.
The thing was running just beyond the torchlight, its claw scratching on the smooth tunnel surface, Rowen following in tow. The tunnels were many, winding and turning until Rowen was dizzy and lost. After an hours chase continually downward, the creature was gone, leaving Rowen in the midst of the extravagant maze of small circular tunnels. She sat down, panting, and leaned back… only there was no back. With a yelp, Rowen fell backwards into the absence of wall behind her into a straight plummet. The plunge suddenly turned into a completely smooth tunnel at a 60-degree angle downward, rocketing Rowen as she slid farther and farther down underground. The rocks around her changed type and color in her torchlight as she fell into places and earth that had never before seen light. She landed with cry on hard stone below. The combination of the time she had followed the creature, plus this recent fall, Rowen was farther down underground than perhaps even the halls of the Seerganash. These tunnels were not crafted by any creature known to Middle Earth. Cavern into which Rowen had fall was enormous… and filled with hundreds of glowing eyes. Some glowed gold, some red, some blue. One pair of brilliantly violet eyes walked toward Rowen. Her guttering torch sputtered and went out. Panicking, Rowen felt along the floor; fortunately, her hand hit a large basin of something that smelled like oil. She placed her gold-banded hand into the oil, and it suddenly exploded in a shower of light. Fire blazed, filling the hall with luminosity. The light fell over the violet-eyed creature alone; the rest had somehow vanished into tunnels. It was an odd and beautiful creature, resembling a sphinx perhaps. A woman-like face peered out of dark purple short hair, only the nose and bottom half of the face jutted out like a cat’s. The eyes were completely a dark violet (their light shut off in the brightness) with no white or pupil. And they were lined it seemed, with heavy black that encircled the narrow squinting eyes and stretched out at the corners. No human ears could be seen, only two black-furred cat ears that stretched out of the hair. The body was lithe and graceful, starting with a long, thin neck that was stacked all the way up with gold bands, and the rest was smoothly furred in dark-tan with gold bands around its wrists that ended in paws. The bottom half of the body was purely cat.
The creature blinked and squinted with eyes that had not seen light in a long time, while still crawling towards Rowen. It sniffed Rowen’s gold bands intently, then gazed into Rowen’s eyes piercingly. Pushing down her fear, Rowen spoke to the creature, hoping it could understand common tongue.
“Who are you?”
The creature backed up and sat on its hunches, its gold-banded tail twitching back and forth. It seemed to be searching in its mind to understand, and soon began to speak very slowly.
“We are Natarinturnan,” The sphinx spoke in an incredibly beautiful, deep, sonorous voice that filled the chamber like a song, and it reverberated on the stone and echoed so that it almost seemed like the sound came from the walls rather than the creature. Despite the pieced together common tongue it spoke, the creature sounded extremely intelligent as the words rolled of its violet lips. Now more of the creatures crept into the cavern. The vast majority of them were of the same appearance only with black eyes that glowed gold, dark red lips, jet-black shoulder-length cut hair, and bronze tanned fur. All of them wore the stacks of thin gold bands up their necks and thick bands around their wrists. Here and there were those with red hair, eyes that glowed red in the dark, bright red lips, and red lined eyes. The same went for those few in blue. The only one purple was the one speaking to Rowen, and she was the leader. One look at their sharp claws told Rowen the scratching heard must have been them carving through the stone to make tunnels. The violet sphinx began to speak again.
“My name too long for speak in common tongue. You may call me Nintura. We have lived here many ages of elf and dragon. We bore these tunnels, we walk the molten fires of long dormant mountain, we channel water of rivers that elf never see. Underground be ours.” As she spoke, she indicated the regular, the red, and the blue Natarinturnan as being associated with either stone, fire, or water. “We were those without name, until great elf delve here many age ago. He name us the Natarinturnan, night sphinx of mountains. We were glad, for he left us in peace, avoiding our depths while his kind build big hall. Now smaller elves, not so great, build deeper and deeper. Try to find us scratching our tunnels. We steal one elf who broke into tunnel, say he must tell others to stop working, but he refuse and kill my sister. He now lies over there.” She pointed to a corner of jutting rock, upon which were old bones of an elf. Nintura’s blank violet eyes looked sad at the mention of the death of her sister. “We do not like to involve ourselves with these elves, but now we must learn of them for fear of domination. We hear them speak, always they talk of dragons. Dragon, ai! We do not like them. They barge through, disturb our waterways and make surge our rivers of magma. Big fire they singe us, take our stores of gold! That is why we be now so deep underground. But the cruel elves bring the dragon fire further and further down!” Nikole narrowed her eyes at Rowen. “You wear dragon gold, craft by dragon. You make fire with hands, have fire in eyes. Why come you to these hills?”
Rowen knew she would be there a long time, the ever-watchful eyes of the Natarinturnan surrounding her. So she took a deep breath and told her story while the Natarinturnan listened intently, their tails flicking this way and that.
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
Chapter 17: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9772.html
Chapter 18: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9847.html
Chapter 19: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9949.html
Chapter 20: https://www.theonering.com/docs/10087.html