Castamir turned to go out of the chamber, but Larenteth was too much in shock to budge. Move! Move! screamed his head, and slowly his body revolved and followed Castamir. A million questions of “why?” erupted in his head, but he couldn’t speak for fear of some cracked voice coming out. Not wanting Castamir or anyone else to see his face, Larenteth quickly squeezed off to a side tunnel and walked as fast as he could without running back to his post by Rowen’s cell. She was the only one he could talk to right now, the only one who knew why and was safe to talk to. But when he got there, she was gone. Larenteth did not care how or why or what at the moment, all he knew was she was not there, no one was there for him. He was alone, all alone. The torch in his hand fell to the dusty ground and went out. The young elf could take it no longer; he sank to his knees and wept in the darkness.
Far below in the tunnels of the Natarinturnan, Nintura spoke at long last after much contemplation.
“How strange it is that we, who have been brought to sorrow by addition of dragons, and you, who have been brought to sorrow by the loss of dragons, should meet. But we share common hatred, the elves that were behind all of our grief. You wish to escape: I see in your mind. We can all understand you; words of any tongue process in our minds, but I be the only one speak in common tongue. We will help you to escape out of the mountain, but we will go no further. Daylight we greatly fear, it burns our eyes to blindness. We will give you food, but I fear our food be no meat, but sweet grasses we grow in water, grass that grow from rock.”
Nintura bid Rowen to follow one of the blue Natarinturnan, which lead her to a small stream. It craved out the rock, beautifully clear, and running a completely smooth riverbed of rock. It was about three feet wide and a foot deep. This cavern was lit by fragments of blue phosphorous and odd glowing plants that grew on the walls, giving off an eerie iridescent light that made it easy to see by. But oddly, they only seemed to glow brightly at a deep purring noise from the blue sphinx. Other than that they stayed at a very low, dim glow. Rowen got the feeling the only reason her companion had made everything glow was so Rowen could see, and that the Natarinturnan did not need it to see by. Rowen kept away from the cold subterranean brook, but she looked on as the blue sphinx dripped itself gracefully into the water that it knew so well, and with its long claws harvested a handful of clean grass that grew on the stone underwater. She brought it to Rowen, presenting it as food. It was remarkably green despite the absence of sunlight, and was sweet and filling in taste. Rowen thanked her and returned to find a band of five Natarinturnan ready to lead her through the tunnels: Nintura the violet, one blue, one red, and two normal. But first, Nintura confronted her with Larenteth’s small drum.
“What be this material? Drum, yes, but made from what?”
“Wood,” Rowen replied. The Natarinturnan’s blank eyes glazed over as they trekked through their long memories.
“Wood, yes, we remember. Long ago, it grow on mountain, roots go deep. We miss it, though we had no use for it.” Nintura said, giving Rowen the small instrument for her to keep safe. Then her face left its thoughtful glaze and turned more serious. “Rowen, we shall do something now that has never happened, we shall willingly lead another race out of our maze. You must never speak of us again, nor show our tunnels, nor reveal our secrets.” Nintura spoke solemnly, then her expression softened. “And please, if you ever get chance, try to stop elves and their dragons from going further into mountain.”
The five Natarinturnan led Rowen through their winding tunnels, far more confusing and numerous than even those of the Seerganash halls. Rowen held an odd sort of rock that glowed different colors depended on the color and brightness level of the place they were in. It was attacked to a piece of cord around her neck, given to her by Nintura. For the current moment it stayed a bright blue glow. Nintura spoke no other words, except in odd hissing noises to her companions every so often, and Rowen journeyed in brooding silence. She did not know what she would do when out of the mountain and into the thick mist, especially since the Seerganash roamed it and knew their way through it. At least she would have a better chance than being caged inside. She wondered how Larenteth was faring, and hoping he would not be in too much trouble when she was discovered missing. And Castamir… well, she should not feel any sorrow that he would miss her, after all she was only a tool. Still she wondered, if she did escape, would their paths ever cross again? Hopefully not! Rowen thought feverishly, but still a doubt nagged at her mind. And Jack… she missed his easy manner, how he still helped her despite how horribly she had treated him. What had become of him?
The first obstacle they met was a rushing, wide stream that cascaded over itself in its rush, filling the tunnel with the sound of water echoing off stone. It was cold, for it was deep underground, and Rowen would not go near it. A wild look returned to her eyes, as if memories played in front of them, and she would not attempt jumping it, though the sphinxes could make it. But the blue Natarinturnan slipped easily into the water, sliding though it without the pull of the fast current effecting her in the slightest. She dipped her head underwater in the center of the stream and touched it to the ground. A very low frequency purring noise reverberated through the water, and it suddenly split into the fast moving streams to each side. The blue sphinx was in the middle, head to the ground and blue eyes glowing brightly, and a large patch of dry rock surrounding her. At the coaxing of Nintura, Rowen jumped over the concentrated branch of the stream at her feet, onto the middle patch, then over the second branch of stream and onto the tunnel ahead. Her heart racing, Rowen slumped down while the other Natarinturnan crossed and the blue one jumped out. The water resumed its middle course in a surging gush once the sphinx had leapt away.
After another two hours of walking through endless tunnels, the second obstacle was reached. By now it was obvious to Rowen that whoever was not lost in the tunnels would still find it impossible to escape over the many natural barriers without the help of the Natarinturnan. This obstacle was a directed and controlled river of magma. A few red sphinxes, in addition to the one accompanying Rowen, were here tending it. The two there, plus the one with the company, put there heads down to the earth next to the searing river and again let out the low frequency purr, their eyes glowing blrightly. The river began to pinch together, withdrawing from their sound. They of course would not go all the way, for the river needed a place to go, but rather once it was narrower the three red sphinxes linked their arms and bodies to form a bridge over the magma.
And the five Natarinturnan kept on at this unceasing pace, going over any obstacles with about the same smooth direction.
Larenteth came to his senses as his elven ears picked up the noise of feet clanging up the stairs. He was lying on the stone floor, his body crunched into a ball; he must have cried himself to sleep. In an instant he was on his feet, splashing his face with water. Idiot! He thought to himself. He could have been seen in such a state! Why was he in such a state to begin with? He was a Seerganash; Seerganash do not do that. If Castamir had perceived the rebellious thoughts that had fluttered through his mind…. No, he would already be dead if that were so. Speaking of Castamir… the footsteps rang closer. How long had Larenteth lay there?! He should already have reported Rowen’s absence long ago. Too late for that now – the door burst open. Lo and behold, it was Castamir. At once Larenteth ran to him.
Only two words Larenteth had to utter, and the shock effect on Castamir was enough to cover any suspicion as to why Larenteth had not reported earlier. Castamir closed his eyes and furrowed his brow as if searching for something in his mind. His eyes snapped open.
“She’s going to try and escape.”
With that he whistled for Kaytar, and the horse came galloping. Larenteth was left behind in the dust, still trying to digest the rapid event that just occurred. His earlier thought returned to him: could he live with the guilt of not helping her if he had the chance?
As Castamir gathered together his numerous elves to tract and recapture Rowen, Rowen herself was nearing the surface of the earth. It seemed like forever since she had begun her journey underground, perhaps because they kept at such a monotonous, unwavering pace. But it was because of this pace that they had made so much progress.
At last the air was not so stale and cold, and they seemed to reach a new level of earth. The glowing stone that Rowen held turned form blue to a golden color, then faded out, hanging uselessly around her neck. She followed the glowing eyes of the Natarinturnan, confident on the smooth tunnels.
Abruptly the eyes stopped moving, and Rowen did too, just in time. A blast of cold air met her face and her feet crunched on an edge. She held up her hands and shot a blast of fire straight ahead. The brief shower of light illuminated a fathomless chasm, slightly narrow, but far too wide to attempt jumping. It was the last barrier between the caves of the Natarinturnan and the single tunnel that led up to the above world. They had a way of getting across, but never used it, and it was hard to undo and almost impossible to redo. But Nintura decided to use it anyway, she had before they even began their trip. She hoped Rowen would be able to escape, and perhaps out of gratitude help get rid of the dragons. At a nod from Nintura, the two golden-colored regular Natarinturnan climbed the walls of the round tunnel, their claws deftly gripping the ceiling as the hung upside-down over the deep chasm. In their own language, Nintura bid them, “Long years we have and slow we work, but now haste is needed!” And so the found the most minute cracks, and scratched. Rowen looked at this with doubtful eyes: how could they do anything just scratching there? But once they gouged the cracks deeper, they poked their tiny noses. In the darkness, the same low-frequency purr echoed in the rocks, but this one was amplified louder than the others, and the eyes of the two sphinxes glowed a very bright gold. The rocks began to shake, then the entire tunnel as it resonated with the sound. Rowen could feel dust falling on her face, and heard a loud cracking noise. Unable to bear the suspense, Rowen shot out another comet of fire. This time the brief light revealed the decided of a giant rock in the ceiling, now broken off. It fell with a crash, straight over the chasm. The tunnel with filled with a grinding noise as the boulder wedged itself in the chasm, forming a way across. The two golden Natarinturnan jumped down, and Rowen ran across. She bumped into the wall, and found an ancient torch on it. After a few tries, she lit it and held it up. She was alone. The sphinxes still stood on the other side and refused to cross. Nintura called out to her, “We go no further, now you enter the above world. Travel straight for one mile and you reach a place that we have sounded open for you. When you leave, send fire blast back up tunnel. We must close it after you leave. Go now, we will not keep it open long. Farewell, Rowen of the dragons. And remember, never speak of us.”
Rowen turned and ran down the tunnel, the low-frequency purr behind her sounding suddenly, followed by the sound of a boulder dislodging itself and falling all the way down the chasm. The bridge was gone.
Rowen held the torch in front of her and ran, making sure to get out soon so the tunnel would not close. Soon enough a small light showed it self at the end of the tunnel, and Rowen climbed to it. She began to run towards it, the light of day awaiting her outside, harshly bright as it now seemed. As if a last trick of the Natarinturnan, Rowen suddenly fell straight down a narrow slide, unseen in the floor, and shot out onto the rocks outside. Turning quickly, she held up her torch and sent a surge of fire through her hands. It blasted up the tunnel and died out. Rowen waited a second, but nothing happened, so she turned to walk away. But the ground rumbled. Rowen’s ears caught the sound of the same low-frequency purr below the rumble of ground, and the tunnel where Rowen had shot out collapse completely beyond any possibly of reopening. Rowen was on her own now, and with no idea of what to do. It was then that she suddenly realized there was no Mist. It poured out of the mountains behind her, but curved around for many many miles before resuming its thick pace. The only thing for Rowen to do was run to a better shelter; it was too open here. Unnoticed above her, a dark figure followed.
Farther away from the mountain, the twisted forest grew. This part of it was still in the area untouched by the Mist. Night descended as she was running, and her lack of sleep began eating away at her energy, not to mention the nonstop marching she had done to get out of the tunnels of the Natarinturnan. But she trod on still, knowing she could not stop. That is, until someone grabbed her band-less wrist. She yelped and tried to run, twisting, but something seemed familiar about this grip. Pushing her hair from her eyes, Rowen turned around and jumped at the figure, tearing off its hood. Shock flooded though her body as the familiar face met her eyes.
It was Jack.
Relief began to fill Rowen, but Jack suddenly whipped out his sword to block off the attack that came a second later. A horse exploded out of the trees, the rider’s sword hitting Jack’s block but still knocking Jack off balance. The rider grabbed Rowen around the middle and galloped like a lightning bolt for a pinnacle of rock that rose out of the ground in front of them. The horse climbed the hill without falter until horse, rider and Rowen had reached the top. The other side of the hill fell off in a sheer cliff to a surging river below. Rowen kicked and screamed at her captor, finally yanking off his hood to reveal the face of Castamir. He glared at Rowen, staring straight into her eyes. Apparently some of his elixir still remained in her body, for she suddenly stopped struggling. But Jack was running close behind, and Castamir turned to watch this. He suddenly wondered how Jack would not realize that he was surrounded… why hadn’t that come into his mind? Surely he would have known…. Now Rowen had spotted him, and began to pull away from Castamir. He pulled her back, trying to retake control of her mind. He looked from Rowen to Jack and went deep in thought, then dismounted off his horse. Abruptly Castamir took Rowen and held her over the cliff edge as if to drop her over. Jack gave a cry and sprang into a fast run. Castamir grinned and pulled Rowen back.
“So, Jack, is there some other interest here than just to undermine my plot? Clearly if that were the case you would have let her drop and that would be the end of your troubles.” Castamir called slyly. He had had no real intention of letting Rowen drop, but it had proved valuable to see Jack’s reaction. “Well, Jack, at least she had proved a generous distraction!” With that, ropes flew out of the forest around Jack, who had been too distracted to notice the band of Seerganash enclosing him.
Castamir remounted, and commanded Rowen to follow. She did not, for Rowen was still staring at the struggling Jack below. Sensing danger in this, Castamir grabbed her arm and pulled her, only she unexpectedly gave a jolt to break away. And break away she did, knocking herself off balance. The smooth stones under her feet shifted, and try as she might to throw herself forward, Rowen toppled backwards off the cliff, straight for the surging river below.
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
Chapter 21: https://www.theonering.com/docs/10112.html
Chapter 22: https://www.theonering.com/docs/10154.html