Must find Vantranack, must find Vantranack…
Rowen mulled over these three words over and over again, trying to find her way back to that mammoth cavern of glassy stone. Not only did she have no idea how to get there in the first place through the winding tunnels, but the tunnels themselves were shifted and crumbling, apparently from the heat freeze that had transpired in the cave of the Master Dragon.
Up ahead Rowen saw the flickering of some torch lights and took the lit passage. The torches had not burned long; they were fresh. The passage was slightly disjoined, but it was still passable, and Rowen quickly wound her way up to a dim room. There, a sickening smell reached her. Holding her nose, Rowen stepped inside the dim room. One torch remained on the wall; the others were either flickering on the floor or slashed in half. Rowen walked around, gathering the torches from the ground and replacing them on the walls, when a voice called from behind her.
The voice was weak but keeping up the pretense of solidity. Rowen vaguely recognized it as Réllika’s, though it was slightly strained. Rowen turned around and saw the dim shape of Réllika sitting with her back to the wall. Firelight flickered on something metallic in the air. Did Réllika have her sword drawn? Rowen released fire from her palms, enthralled to feel it again, and spread it to all the torches in the room. When she looked back at Réllika, Rowen heard a sharp intake of breath from her own mouth.
Réllika was sitting in a pool of blood – her own blood.
She was pinned to the stone behind her, impaled upon a sword that had been driven through her middle. Other wounds scattered around her body, slicing through her leather and black outfit. The mortal wound to her middle dripped a steady flow of crimson, but Réllika herself was sitting placidly with one scarlet hand wrapped around the blade as if nothing whatsoever was wrong. Her once beautiful, lush, thick black hair was matted with blood so that it matched the roughness of Rowen’s. Its softness was edged with sharp cuts of a sword that must have barely missed her head. Fingernail marks scathed her neck as if someone had desperately tried to strangle her. Some of the blood was not her own; the still carcass of an elf lay ten feet away – what was left of Andereth.
As Rowen stepped forward, the firelight glinted off blood that was glistening in the engraving upon the sword’s handle. Rowen read the name upon the handle with a fresh wave of sickness: Réllika had been stabbed through her middle with her own sword.
“That beast tried to kill me with my own sword,” Réllika said as she saw where Rowen’s gaze had stayed, indicating Andereth. To Rowen it looked as if he had succeeded, even though Réllika was somehow still alive. But there was no way she would live it out. “Here, I odd kept these from Andereth for you. I don’t know what they are, but I figured you might want them.” Réllika pointed to two objects lying near her. One was the oblong stone from Nintura; the other was Larenteth’s odd-shaped little wooden instrument. That must mean the Master Key had fallen off Rowen’s neck in the Vantranack.
Réllika smiled weakly. “So, is it the fate of all who hold you prisoner to die, or just Larenteth and I?”
Rowen did not answer.
“…You killed Castamir, didn’t you?”
“I-…. Well, yes… though in the end he rather killed himself.”
Réllika was not paying attention. Rather, she had bowed her head to her chest. When she looked up again, her eyes were wet but she did not say anything else on the subject of Castamir.
“Rowen, I want you to have my sword. Not after I’m dead; now. Take it out of me. I’m already going to die. I would rather you be the one to kill me rather than that beast.” Réllika finished, indicating again the dead form of Andereth.
“Please Rowen! I’ve grown much accustomed to loving pain, and yet I hate it all the same. I want true feeling. You’re different than any other prisoner I’ve guarded, and I would feel greatly obliged if you would kill me.”
Rowen regarded Réllika with an alarmed, sad expression. What had they done to her to make her like this? With an inner sigh of anguish, Rowen deafly nodded. She did not know where the strength was coming from to do this. Réllika’s face brightened and she continued a bit more. “If anyone asks, tell them you killed me. Don’t tell them it was Andereth, because it wasn’t!” She spat out the latter rather forcefully.
Rowen nodded, stood up, and gripped her hands to the hilt of the sword. Réllika nodded at her and released the blade. Slowly, Rowen wrenched the sword from the stone and from Réllika’s body. Her body convulsed in pain, her eyes watering until her tears turned claret. “Thank you Rowen,” She whispered as her eyes brimmed with red, “I am fortunate enough not to die with green eyes now.” She smiled faintly. How could she not have suffered instant death? Rowen pondered, looking with amazement and pity on Réllika and guiltily fingering the blood-red sword hilt in her hand. Réllika seemed to finally be passing from life, when suddenly her body shuddered with effort and Réllika, her head still titled back, whispered Rowen’s name once more.
“Rowen…” Réllika gasped through searing pain, “Please, I-I have a daughter. No one knows of her except the warden of the maidens. Please… don’t let them name her. Not like they did me.
And she was gone.
Rowen stood so long with the crimson sword in her hand, not hearing the stone shifting around her, not seeing anything, not feeling the dust fall on her skin. The world was crumbling around her, in many more ways than one. She did not know what to think anymore now that all she had promised had been broken. Now Réllika was gone too, and Rowen felt sorrow for her. Why? Rowen wished she was still alive… why? Had not these people captured her? Had not they beat her, dragged her about, and done terrible things?
Yes, they did.
Would they have done so if not born like they were?
No, they would not.
They were born like this and had no other choice. “I never saw him as much of a threat, though his father turned him into something awful.”
He began of generation, an empire of the Iron Hills, a dynasty of broken elves. Their green eyes are a symbol of their enslavement to the world around them, to their own thoughts. Their lives are based on revenge – they have no other purpose and no other true master.
Réllika’s last word still echoed in Rowen’s head. “Trillnahnere…” Yes, Rowen knew that word. She did not know from where or what language it was, but she knew well what it meant. Quite simply, it translated to “thank you,” but was reserved for the most generous of thanks.
The dust began to fall more thickly, now coming with a few rocks. Rowen was jarred back to reality as some of the stones bumped off of her head and shoulders. The cavern was caving in; the heat freeze from the Master Dragon’s cave was affecting much in the surrounding area. Réllika’s body suddenly disappeared from view as half the ceiling fell in between Rowen and Réllika. Rowen jumped backwards, scrambled up, and ran out of the horrible cavern – not without a backwards glance.
Back out in the hall, Rowen went running, ducking as she went, for the walls were shifting and the ceiling falling. Swerve, swerve, swerve, duck, sprint, dodge…. The rocks began falling almost like rain. Rowen tried dodging down a million different halls; each was the same. Eyes closed from dust, she ran blindly down a hall. It took her a few seconds to realize when she had passed out of the collapsing stone area and into a more sturdy area. The first sign was when she ran smack into the huge chest of a burly soldier, knocking herself backwards.
The soldier growled down at her.
“Is… Is this near the… Vantranack?” Rowen asked, blinking upwards at the looming elf through her dust-coated eyelashes.
“Well, I-I don’t care what you do…I’m g-going in there. So step aside!” Rowen said, the latter half confidently as she raised her hands to use fire power if need be. To her utter surprise and confusion, the guard stepped easily aside as if nothing had fazed him.
“The tunnel up to Castamir’s lookout has been freed from these tremors. You can take that passage. We cannot pass up there, but you since Castamir is dead you will be enabled to.”
“Er…uh…t-thanks…I guess…. How, how did- did you know Castamir -?”
“You killed him,” the guard said blatantly, as if it was plainly obvious to everyone.
“So… you’re not going to …… attack me?”
“O-okay then… I’ll just be g-going….”
“Not so fast.” The guard gripped Rowen’s arm as she tried to pass by. She only realized then that she was completely surrounded by other Seerganash guard – some of them from the elite Hunting Party. They completely surrounded her, cloaked in shadow. Only their numerous blades gleamed in the weak light. “If you do not bring Jack out of their alive, we will slice you in many more ways than two on your way out.” The guard released her arm and gave her a slight shove. Rowen was beyond bewildered. Amid the many other questions and oddities revolving around her mind, another question was pushed to the top – why do they want Jack to live?
“What do you want with Jack?” Rowen asked, turning back around. But no one was there – they had all disappeared.
“Guess I’m on my own now… what an insane world,” Rowen muttered to herself, shaking her head in puzzlement. The perplexity of what was happening was far more than she could bear right about now, so Rowen just headed straight towards the tunnel door in front of her.
*Trillnahere is a word of my own creation, my own language. I make up words when I find normal ones too bland, and I thought it would fit nicely here.