Chapter 32: The Silence of the Trees
El Darnen and Edya walked backwards, their swords in front of them, holding back the Wyrm that snarled and prowled after them. Daliana and Kallin walked forwards, Kallin with the torch watching ahead for more danger, and Daliana dividing her attention between what might be in front, and the Wyrm behind.
Edya whispered as quietly as she could. “Kallin, what do you know about Wyrms?”
“Less than anyone else here.” Kallin’s response was also whispered. The only universal knowledge of the Dragon’s lesser cousin was its reaction to noise.
Daliana stopped and turned towards the Wyrm. “It’s only curious, not hungry.”
“And that helps us … how?”
El Darnen answered. “If it was hungry, it would have tried to eat us by now.”
“It could still kill us.”
“No. We’re leaving its territory. That seems to be enough for it.”
El Darnen wasn’t impressed. “You say that like you trust this thing.”
“I’ve trusted you for the past two years without knowing your past or your intentions. I can actually communicate with animals, El Darnen. I have as much reason or more to trust this Wyrm than I have to trust you.” El Darnen half-turned, but didn’t turn away from the Wyrm, cautious in case Daliana was wrong.
Ahead of them, Kallin sneezed.
Whether the Wyrm could hear and had not been threatened by their whispers had been debateable. But Kallin’s sneezed echoed up and down the tunnel, until it sounded more like a challenging roar than the small burst of air and mucus that it had been.
Loud as Kallin’s sneeze seemed after hours of silence and careful whispering, the Wyrm’s answering roar was deafening: deep and reverberating.
Daliana’s mind flashed to the Lurnax that El Darnen had not so long ago chastised her for ignoring. Now, she had to restrain herself from spewing the same at El Darnen.
Kallin stepped further up the tunnel to put himself out of the way of the group’s warriors. He knew nothing, as he had stated, about Wyrms, and less about sword craft.
Edya and El Darnen raised their swords higher. The formality that was the challenge roar had been observed. There was no choice now but to fight.
The Wyrm reared up. Edya rolled to try and get behind it, slicing out with her sword and scoring a shallow cut on top of the scales of its leg. El Darnen stayed in front, trying to keep the creature’s focus on himself. He dodged one sweeping claw and jumped over another. He barely avoided the Wyrm’s snapping jaws as he threw himself against the tunnel wall.
Edya raised her sword above her head and chopped down on the Wyrm’s back, trying to end the fight. Her sword bounced off, but she distracted it from El Darnen long enough for him to kneel and strike upwards with the pommel of his sword, punching the Wyrm in the chin.
The Wyrm roared again, louder and angrier.
Daliana drew her sword and swiped at the open mouth, cutting the inside of its cheek. The Wyrm backed up, stepping on Edya’s foot. She screamed as a claw punched through her leather boot, her foot, and the rest of her boot all the way to the stone floor. The Wyrm wheeled around towards the scream, ripping Edya’s foot. She fell, unable to place any weight on that leg, just in time, as the Wyrm snapped at her. It missed and its head hit the wall of the tunnel. It shook its head, then returned to El Darnen.
El Darnen ducked and rolled to Edya’s side, slicing at the foot that was about to step on her again. The Wyrm roared in pain once more, and that was it. It started back down the tunnel, stopping and roaring every few feet. El Darnen roared back once, and the Wyrm was gone.
Kallin helped Edya take off her boot, then he assessed the wound. “It isn’t poisoned. Good. Overall, just very messy. Nothing to worry about.” “Hurts like hell.”
El Darnen pulled out an oiled cloth and wiped his sword, very slowly. He was careful with his movements. He passed the cloth to Daliana and rubbed his right ribs, wincing. “You were stepped on by an adult Wyrm. A big one, too. I’d guess nine hundred pounds. You’re lucky you still have a foot.” El Darnen winced again as he stretched his right side. Daliana suspected that he had at least one broken rib from how hard he’d thrown himself against the tunnel wall. She also noticed that a claw had torn his pant leg, and that his calf was bleeding. He’d be in pain soon.
“Almost wish I didn’t right now.”
“We need to get moving. We’re close to the exit by now. We have to be.”
Kallin supported Edya as they began to walk again. Edya couldn’t stand the silence anymore.
“Kallin, how could Garneth have made a portal?”
Kallin thought for several minutes, wanting to be careful with his answer. “If El Darnen’s accusations are correct, and I agree that there are reasons why they appear to be so,” he added before El Darnen could start, “then he used magic discovered by the Seven, likely passed down through the generations by the Black Star. However, if my father is not the evil man of El Darnen’s belief, made questionable by his leaving instead of answering the accusations, then it makes some sense to me that he could make a portal. Storinean magic and Torridestan magic have enough similarity that any Storinean of appropriate strength could produce portals, assuming they had the correct spells and the knowledge. I do not know what my father’s strength as a spellcaster is, but he has always been adept as a spellsmith, creating new enchantments.
“So, do you agree that he is Black Star?”
“It seems plausible enough that your accusations, El Darnen, are worth pursuing. When we return to Anaria, we should make it known that Garneth Revdark has returned and that he is, at the very least, worthy of the Remnant’s suspicion.” “That Wyrm seemed to give up easily, didn’t it?”
“It was more concerned with us leaving than with us being its dinner. When Kallin sneezed, it sounded like a challenge. We were leaving, and then we weren’t. We injured it enough, and we were close enough to the end of its territory, that it wasn’t worth prolonging the fight.” “El Darnen, how much longer will we be down here, and where will we be when we get out?”
“Hopefully, only another hour. This tunnel isn’t actually very long, because of where it is in the mountains. As for where, we’ll be close to Galzeen.” “How close to Galzeen?”
“Inside the Chimney.”
“So how does no one in Noldoron know about this tunnel?”
“I never said they didn’t. El Ernoch Natri is under the protection of the Steel Throne. Not many people know about it, but some do.” “Gelida?”
“She sits on the Steel Throne, so yes. Dalasin knew about it as well, as did every other Noldorin Morschcoda that you can name. It is a carefully guarded secret, but less so than other secrets that the Serpents have been trusted to protect.” …
As far as anyone could tell, El Darnen’s prediction of an hour had been correct. A wooden door began to appear in front of them in the distance, and no one was unhappy to see it.
Five Tall Dwarves and five members of the Greshida were guarding the other side of the door. They all jumped when they heard the knock, and they had weapons drawn as one of them took out the key to open the door.
“Ezh isn craa.”
The key clicked and the door swung open on well-oiled hinges. El Darnen and the three Morschcoda emerged. One of the Tall Dwarves noticed that Edya was injured and went to arrange a healer. He also came back with a spare pair of boots that fit her reasonably well.
Two of the Greshida started to prepare a meal for them: chicken and roasted potatoes. It was nothing fancy, but they hadn’t eaten hot food the whole time in the tunnel, so whatever food was offered was wonderful.
As soon as they had eaten, and the healer had come and gone, Daliana was anxious to leave. “We need to get back to Dothoro.” El Darnen nodded. “Kallin and I are still going into the mountains. On foot, this time.”
“Very well. But I’m willing to risk a portal, if there is one.”
Ranny looked up from the book she was reading at the portal forming only a few feet from her. She was happy to see Daliana and Edya walk through it.
“My Lady. You’ve been gone a long time.”
“It feels like it. What’s happened?”
“A lot. Daken had marched on Meclarya. The Morieden Tribes have arisen. Erygan has announced that he has stepped down as Morschcoda. Eildar has been named in his place, and Erygan is now just the King of Torridesta … How much do you want to know?” “How much more is there?”
“There is one thing I need to tell you, at least. Makret Druoth is preparing to fight for Ra-Diavere. I need to go.”
“You’re safer here.”
“This isn’t about safety Daliana. A Drogodan traitor is preparing to fight and die for my people and my city. I am the Morschcoda of Caladea. I can’t do any less.” “Ranny,” Daliana was about to start, but Edya put a hand on her shoulder.
“Go with our blessing, Ranny. Fight well.”