Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Quests Episode Nineteen: Into the Depths

Just a quick note before I continue to May's episode: I will most likely be taking a short break after this as my baby is due next month and the rest of the story is going to need some work. Please enjoy this episode and watch for an announcement letting you know when I will resume the story. Sorry that I'm going to leave you with a bit of cliff-hanger!

Read the series prologue here.

Read episode eighteen here.

Episode Nineteen: Into the Depths

The wings of Oakley's mount beat against the air with a loud whooshing sound. Oakley strained his eyes in search of the path he had walked with Beritta not long ago. Wind whipped his face causing his eyes to water, but still he forced himself to concentrate on the dark landscape below him. Oakley urged the winged horse to fly even lower over the looming mountains, lower than was truly safe. He was grateful that he had trained the animal to trust him so completely. The clouds moved even faster now than they had earlier in the night. The shadows they cast made it harder to see the landscape below.

A gap appeared in the cloud cover for a moment, allowing the moon to briefly illuminate the mountains. In that instant, Oakley caught a glimpse of the trail for which he was looking. He signaled his horse who circled before descending to land lightly on a rocky patch near the place Oakley indicated. Once the animal tucked in his wings, Oakley dismounted and took in his surroundings. He was above the tree line in the area covered by short grass and large rocks. He spotted the worn pathway cutting through the rocks on his right. The winged horse snorted softly in irritation.

“I’ve got to go, but I’ll be back soon,” said Oakley softly. “Stay in the area and don’t follow me.”

The horse bobbed his head and trotted off to graze. After watching for a minute, Oakley turned with a resolute step and started up the path. Driven by anxiety, Oakley moved from one switchback to the next at a hurried pace. A huge nearly vertical rock face loomed over the lower parts of the mountain. The higher Oakley went, the more menacing these cliffs seemed. The path took one last sharp turn and ended at the dark entrance of the underground city.

Oakley stopped short behind the last bend, staring out from behind it at the gaping hole. He scanned the darkness, trying in vain to locate the guards patrolling there. A sudden wave of fear swept over him and he felt as though he were frozen in place. What are you thinking? asked a small voice in his head, You can’t go in there alone! Wait for the rest of the warriors from Wilderlah. Do you want to be killed in the darkness of an evil city? That’s what will happen if you go in there by yourself.

Oakley took a deep breath and closed his eyes. It didn’t help. He thought of his friends trapped somewhere inside the mountain. An image of Faralasa saluting as she rose into the air came to mind. He thought of Beritta’s reckless leadership and was convinced all over again that this was a trap.

I have to try and save them, he argued with himself. I can’t leave them in the dark. If I die I will return to the Kingdom of Light, but I have to do what I can for my friends first.

He opened his eyes and stared again at the front gate. He repeated to himself that he was here to save his friends. Still, his fear was so great that he couldn’t force himself to move. He shut his eyes again and prayed for the Lord of Light to give him strength. A cold breeze swept over the mountain. Oakley shivered, pressed his eyelids tighter and made his prayer more pleading. A sudden unexpected peace came over him and he felt the presence of the Lord of Light. The wind brushed against his cheek.

Oakley slowly opened his eyes, this time keeping them open. A shaft of moonlight pierced the cloud cover, landing on a small cave high on the rock face to the right of the main gate. He realized that the Lord of Light was showing him a safer way into the underground city. He sighed and muttered a grateful prayer. Crouching to avoid drawing the attention of goblin and troll guards, Oakley moved off the path and over the rocks in the direction of the cave. He realized as he got closer that it was higher on the cliff then he had first thought. He scanned the rocks for a minute until he found several small cracks and ledges which he used to climb. There was barely any ledge in front of the cave but Oakley managed to pull himself up and inside the crack.

The passage was narrow and the roof low. Oakley ducked and trailed his right hand against the rough stone wall. Cold air blew up from somewhere below, chilling him as he made his way down the sloping cavern into the city in the mountain. Before long, Oakley’s passage joined a wider tunnel which was dimly lit by an unknown source. Oakley stopped for a minute to take in the high smooth walls. The roof of the tunnel was lost in darkness. Doubt crept into Oakley’s mind again. He had no idea where to look for his friends, and a wrong turn could be disastrous. He heard a soft tapping noise in front of him. At the sound Oakley realized The Lord of Light had sent a Tommy-knocker to help him. Tommy-knockers were a kind of spirit who lived in caves and mines. They knocked on the walls, usually to warn of coming danger such as cave-ins but in this case the Tommy-knocker was tapping to guide him through the city.

With a cautious glance to either side, Oakley stepped into the tunnel. The soft sounds of the knocker led him a short distance down the passage before the tapping switched to another tunnel on his left. He turned in that direction. The tapping noises continued in this way, leading him through the maze-like corridors of the subterranean city.

Once, as Oakley came to a branch in the passages, the knocker made a series of loud quick taps on the wall beside him. Oakley stopped for a minute in confusion. Then he heard footsteps coming in his direction. He flattened himself against the wall and waited with a pounding heart as a troll passed a few feet from him. Thankfully, the troll seemed absorbed in thought and paid little attention to the tunnel around him. When he could no longer hear footsteps, Oakley relaxed. He started breathing again, realizing with surprise that he had been holding his breath. A soft tapping came from a nearby passage ahead and to the right. He turned down that corridor and continued on his way. This routine continued until Oakley was deep in the heart of the mountain city. He had a few more close calls with goblins and trolls, but each time managed to get safely past them. At last Oakley came to a part of the city which seemed darker and more menacing. The knocker led him down a tunnel lined with caves covered in thick metal bars. Three slow taps drew Oakley’s eyes to a larger cave covered by a gate which spanned the entrance like a giant metal spider web.

This must be where the goblins and trolls had brought their prisoners. Still, Oakley wanted to be sure. He grabbed the bars of the gate and stared into the darkness within.

“Lasa,” he called in a loud whisper. “Faralasa, can you hear me?”

“Oakley!” Faralasa’s voice was high pitched with relief. “Is that you? We’re here!”

“Not so loud!” Oakley warned glancing over his shoulder. “Let’s try not to alert the guards. Where’s the key to this gate?”

“One of the guards has it,” Faralasa replied this time also speaking in a loud whisper.

Before Oakley could say anything else, he heard footsteps behind him. He turned to see a large goblin approaching. A ring of keys jingled as the goblin moved.

“What’s all this noise?” the goblin demanded. “Quiet in there!”

The guard moved so that the gate was in plain sight and noticed Oakley. Oakley tackled him before he had time to react. He slammed the goblin’s head against the wall until the creature crumpled and slumped to the floor, unconscious. Quickly, Oakley slipped the keys off the goblin’s belt, unlocked the gate and slipped inside the prison.

For a moment Oakley stood still, taking in a million details. The cavern where he now stood was large but dimly lit and had a strange rancid odor. Chains hung from all the walls. Faralasa was kneeling near the far wall and Oakley realized that her legs were chained to it. Dark objects hung from the ceiling. Oakley glanced up to see what looked like tiny wire bird cages hung throughout the room. Rueben and Wispen were in two of these cages. Rueben pulled himself up, clutching the bars of his cage. He was about to say something when the group heard more footsteps and voices in the tunnel.

“It’s the guards,” Faralasa whispered.

Oakley turned back to the gate just as three armed goblins came into view.

“What’s going on, Felix?” asked one of the goblins.

Then he saw the unconscious guard, the open gate and Oakley standing in the middle of the prison holding the keys.

“Sound the alarm,” said the goblin. “Tell them to search the city for intruders. Terrance and I will handle this.”

One of his companions nodded and ran down the passage. In a moment of panic Oakley wondered if Beritta and the warriors had reached the city yet. If so, he realized he had just alerted the goblins to their presence. He moved toward the guards as though to stop them. Just then the goblin called Terrance moved inside the gate, pushed Oakley roughly backward and drew his sword. The first goblin also drew his weapon and followed his companion into the prison, pulling the gate shut behind him with an ominous clang.

“This should be fun,” said Terrance with a nasty grin. “I’ve been wanting to spill some elf blood. It was disappointing when the leaders told us not to kill the prisoners.”

“Yeah,” agreed the first goblin. “Thankfully we don’t have any orders about the new one.”

They shared an evil laugh then closed in on the elf. Oakley retreated to the far wall with a pounding heart. Snarling, the goblins ran at him, one from the right while the other blocked him from the left. In desperation, Oakley glanced between them trying to find an escape. Faralasa crawled in front of Oakley, chain rattling as it dragged behind her.

“Stay away from him!” she cried.

The goblins just laughed and the one on the right lunged at Oakley. Faralasa jumped in front of him pulling the chain tight across his path. The goblin tripped, fell flat on his face and dropped his sword. Lasa gritted her teeth as the chain yanked at her legs. The goblin got to his feet and hit Faralasa, making her head ring. Oakley picked up the goblin’s sword and ran to aid her.

“Look out!” Wispen yelled just as the other goblin slammed Oakley against the wall, knocking the wind out of him. The goblin wrapped a hand around the elf boy’s throat, choking him.

“Drop the sword!” the goblin ordered.

When Oakley hesitated the goblin squeezed harder against his neck, nearly strangling him. Oakley let the weapon clatter to the floor. The goblin’s companion moved away from Lasa and stood watching.

“Hand over the keys!” said the first goblin.

Oakley’s eyes darted to the side. He took in the terrified expressions on Faralasa and the fairies’ faces. Oakley gasped as the goblin continued to press his hand against his throat.

“Lasa,” he managed to choke out.

He flung the keys in her direction. She caught them as they skidded across the floor. The goblin holding Oakley cursed, gave the elf’s throat one last squeeze and threw him to the floor. Oakley lay there gasping and coughing until the goblin grabbed him again, this time pinning his arms behind his back.

The goblin turned Oakley so he was facing Faralasa. Keeping the elf’s arms pinned with one hand the goblin sheathed his weapon and grasped a fistful of Oakley’s hair, pulling his head back. The other goblin picked up his sword and held it level with Oakley’s exposed neck.

“Give us the keys,” said the goblin with the sword, addressing Lasa, “or we’ll kill him.”

“You said you were going to kill him anyway!” cried Faralasa trying hard to be brave.

“If you give us the keys we’ll leave him here with you alive,” the goblin replied.

“Why should I believe you?” Lasa cried clutching the keys tighter. “You’re rotten liars! If I give you the keys you’ll probably kill him anyway!”

“If you don’t hand them over his death will be your fault,” said the goblin moving the sword even closer to Oakley.

“Don't listen to them!” Oakley called struggling fruitlessly against his captors. “You have the keys. Free yourself.”

“Shut up!” yelled the goblins.

The second goblin placed the tip of his sword against Oakley’s jaw, making it impossible for him to talk. He turned pleading eyes to Faralasa. She was sure she was the only one who noticed his anger. He wasn’t giving up yet. She felt as though she had to fight with him, defying Darkness, even if it meant the death of them both.

“Light help us,” she whispered.

The goblins looked angry. A spark of hope appeared in Oakley’s eyes and he silently repeated the prayer. Both elves felt a surge of strength. With shaking hands Lasa lowered a key to the chains on her legs.

“Stop!” shouted the goblin with the sword.

His weapon slipped a little lower. Knowing this was the best opportunity he would get, Oakley thrust his foot into the leg of the goblin behind him. The goblin’s hand on his hair slipped. With an unexpected quick movement Oakley flipped the goblin over his head and into the armed guard in front of him. The tip of the blade barley nicked Oakley’s throat as the goblins fell in a tangled heap. Oakley grabbed the sword as the goblin dropped it. He smacked the guards over their heads with it, knocking them out. By this time Faralasa had freed herself from the chains. She stumbled to Oakley’s side. He held out a hand to support her.

“You’ll have to finish them off you know,” said Lasa glancing at the goblins at her feet.

“I have a better plan,” Oakley replied. “Why don’t we give them a taste of their own medicine?”

He gestured to the room around them.

Faralasa smiled. “I like that idea.”

They dragged the two goblins to one of the walls and clapped chains on their wrists.

Oakley relieved the second goblin of his sword then said, “Now let’s free the fairies and get out of here.”

As Lasa unlocked Wispen’s cage, Reuben pressed his face against the bars and called, “Oakley, a troll took Lilac to her cave to be a pet. We have to get her back!”

Oakley turned a questioning gaze on Faralasa. She nodded grimly.

“I still don’t understand,” said Oakley. “Where is Lilac exactly?”

“Somewhere in the troll caves,” Lasa replied as Wispen jumped onto her shoulder. “I think they’re near the entrance to the city.”

“Then we’ll look for her on our way out,” said Oakley.

A frenzied tapping from the walls caught his attention.

“More enemies are coming,” said Oakley. “We need to go.”

Faralasa unlocked Reuben’s cage and he flew out of it. As they opened the gate and made their way out, Oakley held one of the goblin swords out to Lasa.

“Here,” he said. “You might need this.”

They made their way back toward the surface following the guidance of the Tommy-knocker. Groups of goblins and trolls passed in their search for intruders, forcing the group to hide in side caverns. Faralasa dropped the keys in a small cave which seemed to be a supply room. Near the front gate the knocker again warned of danger. Oakley ushered the group into the thin passageway through which he had entered as more goblins passed.

Once they were gone he turned to Faralasa and whispered, “Lasa, I think you should get the fairies out now. This way leads onto the mountainside. It’s easier than trying to slip out the main gate. There’s a bit of a drop, though, so be prepared.” “What about Lilac?” Lasa whispered back. “We can’t just leave her.”

“I’ll go to the troll caves and find her then meet you lower on the slopes.”

“I don’t think we should split up,” said Faralasa. “Isn’t that what got us into this mess?”

“Yes, I know,” Oakley snapped, “but I want us to make it out of here alive. It’s easier for the soldiers to spot a group of us than one or two. Please go with Reuben and Wispen. I promise I’ll meet you somewhere farther down the mountain once I find Lilac.”

Lasa was silent for a minute, thinking it through. At last she nodded and turned to explain the new plan to Reuben and Wispen. Oakley heard a soft tapping across from the gate and knew it was time to move. He turned to look at Faralasa one last time.

“Light go with you,” she whispered not even trying to hide her fear. Oakley took a deep breath to control his own dread.

“Light be with you too,” he said and headed toward the troll caves.

Continue to episode twenty.

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