Three of the elves jumped down from a balcony and produced a lard coil of black rope. Once they had secured a simple bridge of two ropes across the gap, Castamir, carrying Rowen, walked easily across without losing balance. The other elves followed in suit, one holding out Castamir’s sword, which he handed back to its owner once they had crossed. Castamir took the proffered weapon, but sheathed it. The other Seerganash elf looked befuddled.
“Are you not going to kill him?” He said, indicating the prostrate form of Jack.
“No,” Castamir replied. “After all he put me through, he’s not going to just die while unconscious; that would be to easy. Jack’s going to die in battle – with my triumphant face as his last vision.” He finished through gritted teeth. The other elf stepped back hurriedly and silenced himself.
At the mention of Jack, Rowen stirred. She was recovering from her fright, and began to pull away, trying to wrench herself from Castamir’s grip. He held her fast, but did not get angry. Rather, his brow furrowed and a look of hurt crossed his face.
At last he sighed. He would have to give her more of his drink for now. He took out a small pouch and unscrewed the nozzle at the tapered top of it. While holding still the squirming Rowen, he poured a small amount of the liquid down her throat. Rowen immediately went slack and soft in the curve of Castamir’s arm.
When Rowen opened her eyes again, she groaned. Too often of late did the same scene meet her eyes when she awoke: bars. She was caged yet again, but this time she was furious. The liquid settling in her stomach kept her anger off the target of Castamir, but the memory of her and Jack’s almost-escape infuriated her. How repetitive this life of capture and escape had become! She also had not seen Larenteth in a while… she hoped he was alright.
Her cell was very dimly lit, hardly enough to see by. Noises echoed off the walls ranging from water dripping, voices of elves in adjacent rooms, and clangs of the hammers of the Seerganash. Sometimes it almost seemed like there was someone working right in this room.
Rowen blinked. There was someone there, beyond her range of vision, at the door of her enclosure. The dark figure paused a moment as if it realized Rowen had awoken, followed shortly by a tiny dull click. The figure fled down the tunnel stealthily as if still in hopes that it was not seen. Rowen ran to the gate, whispering “Wait! Wait!” but the figure was gone. In frustration she kicked her cell door.
It flung open.
Aghast, Rowen saw that it had been unlocked, and recently. The handle was still warm right above the keyhole. Unsure of what to do, Rowen slipped out. It was between guard shifts, but the dull clang of boots revealed someone was walking up the stairs. Hastily, Rowen grabbed an old Seerganash cloak from the ground and bunched it in the far corner of her cell, then bolted. On her way out she tripped over a pack on the ground with something hard inside of it; she grabbed it without knowing why and kept running. It was a large pouch with a wide, long handle that would be worn on one shoulder, crossing across the body and resting the pouch at the waste. From the feel of the fabric, Rowen could tell the bag had been recently left: it was damp with perspiration as if someone had run with it, and it was warm from close proximity to one’s body. It also almost felt to have nothing within it, but the jangling from within told Rowen that indeed there was.
Rowen did not know where to go. She had no idea when she might run into a Seerganash elf, or some kind of trap. As if in answer to her dread, the shaft of stone that hung around her neck suddenly began to glow a very faint red. Glancing around, Rowen saw that a corner of the tunnel she was in had rocks that were crumbling and blackened. She shifted these aside to reveal a narrow shaft, covered in black. The rock of the tunnel was light and soft; this had once been a magma channel of the Natarinturnan. With a silent thanks to Nintura for the gift of the telltale stone, Rowen crawled into the tunnel, closing the rocks up behind her.
She realized why this had been undisturbed by the Seerganash. Even if one was small enough to fit, the rocks where heated in places to burning degree. Rowen was not affected, but she did find the charred bone remains of an elf who must have attempted the tunnel, become stuck, and died in the hot spot. Shuddering, Rowen continued on. She had to remind herself that this was an extreme stroke of luck. Natarinturnan tunnels were not to be found in many places; tunnels of the sphinxes this high up were almost all destroyed to negate access by the elves. The few channels she had journeyed in – the water shaft and this old lava duct – were most likely only still standing because at the time they still served purpose.
At last Rowen thankfully reached a small cavern. It looked as if it had been a bubble of water or air pocked in the lava when it cooled, then carved into tunnels by the Natarinturnan long ago. Almost all of these were caved in, dismantled, or otherwise blocked. The thick ash that coated the ground revealed no one had entered here in centuries.
Rowen sat down with a gasp, her throat dry and scratchy and her chest heaving with muscle strain. She rested a minute, her only light being from the orangey glow off the stone that hung around her neck. Even if Rowen had had the strength the create fire, there was nothing to ignite but solidified magma. The dim glow would have to do for now. Rowen checked her self over to make sure nothing was wrong, and then picked up the bag. It looked to be a normal, soft brown, flexible bag of leather used for carrying messages and other small tokens. Inside lay a small dagger of steel, and a black cloth that shrouded some other object. The fabric was cold and stiff, but it was nothing compared to its contents. A flask of some white, frozen liquid was inside, the same frozen flask Rowen had seen at her time in the infirmary – the one that remained cold despite the heat around it. A note was scrawled hastily and tacked on it, though the ink itself had frosted and formed crystallized patterns on the stiff paper. It read:
“Do not drop this, do not open it, do not touch it. Guard it with your life – use the knife if need be. I don’t know what the frozen stuff does, but it has been revealed to me that…
I must go you escape I help go
The latter fragment was scrawled almost illegibly, as if the person had been rushed by something. Beating down her curiosity, Rowen tore her eyes from the glassy white frost and put it back in its cloth and back in the bag. She hung the bag on her shoulder so that it fitted snuggly across her chest and rested the pouch on her hip. The secure fit enabled it to be carried so it would not fall off. Now all Rowen had to do was find a way out of here.
It seemed she really had no choice to make (fortunately, for there were several tunnels that had once existed) for all but two had caved in. The one she had come through, and one other that was the narrowest of them all. It was a squeeze, but Rowen made it in. The rock, despite being thankfully smooth, did however crush her shoulders as she squirmed inside. There was no way to turn around, and it was too tight to move backwards. The only option left was to go forward – wherever forward led to.
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
Chapter 23: https://www.theonering.com/docs/10284.html
Chapter 24: https://www.theonering.com/docs/10329.html
Chapter 25: https://www.theonering.com/docs/10476.html
Chapter 26: https://www.theonering.com/docs/10675.html