We spent three full days in the treasure trove. That was more time there then what it took to reach it. It’s foolish really, but when you are surrounded by so much treasure you know you cannot carry with you, you’ll find that you have trouble leaving it.
But not me. I was impatient and insisting we leave only an hour after I found the White Stone.
I had other places to go, more things to get.
You need to learn patience, Mir. Jovian often said to me.
I learned it.
But, finally, we were leaving, going back through the throne room and passing those doors instead of going back through the gate. There were several more treasure troves on this level, but I needed something specific and I could only think of one persons’ vault it could be in.
It was a risk going there, not knowing what could be on this level and with our only exit being where we started, but it needed to be done. If I found what I was looking for, then I would become that much more powerful and that much deadlier. Marqis wouldn’t stand a chance at all.
It was something Arion had said, actually, he’d told me that the king had sent an army in a few years back in search for something. I knew this, but I had assumed it was to search for the White Stone. However, Arion informed me that it was the Ruberous Faun, and since that moment, it had come across my mind several times if it was worth the risk finding it or not.
The Ruberous Faun was originally named simply “Rubric” but when Çonahn Faun – an elven lord – won a battle with it, the Rubric became renamed.
It was a simple gemstone of molten yellow but made into a perfect square naturally. Upon finding it, it was discovered that this gem held magical properties and so it was put away to be tested and used, when Çonahn used it, he found that he could heal a certain amount of people at a time. Being careful, he had managed to make it so that his entire army survived what would have otherwise been a bloody battle.
Later, it was broken apart and sold to each of the nine elven lords in case of another war, but it was to be put away and not used unless it was for the kingdom. When the kingdom fell, however, and they needed it most, their treasures were left inside, unreachable. Including, apparently, the Ruberous Faun.
I had searched for a piece of it in the kings’ treasury, but seeing as it was not there, it must be set back into a whole form within Çonahn’s treasure. If not, then at least a piece of it is. Surely.
A gem that could heal wounds with a touch, one that had no known side-effects to its user... now that was surely worth the risk.
So, when the others walking ahead of me reached the top of the stairs, I said, “Turn right.” And because I had led them so far, they did so without a comment though I’d earlier told them of my plan to escape the mountain safely and it had involved going left.
This floor was far more elaborate. It was where the court was held, where the offices were, where council meets had been taken place, amongst other things. This floor was by far the most filled with riches, even simply sitting in desks inside of abandoned rooms. Though I was weighed down heavily with riches already, I ached to go inside and explore them all just to see if I could make out the letters on the ancient scripts that hadn’t been read in a thousand years.
When I almost reached the door I needed, however, I could smell something. It was scat.
It was something marking their territory.
Everyone slowed but didn’t stop, eyes out and careful.
Then there was the sound of as small yip from further ahead and I almost groaned aloud, more mutts.
“In here.” I said, motioning to the door that was Fawn’s office. There was a sound of howling, but we quickly closed the door behind us, keeping them out but also trapping us in.
Inside the office was not much at all, but behind the desk, where a curtain would have been before it rotted away, there was another nob to get inside. Everyone recognized what this was by now and needed no encouragement. Aitch and Arion pushed it open while I slipped inside and started going over the code.
Admittedly, I felt a slice of guilt when I lead them into a room when I didn’t know how we were going to get out.
Aitch gaped when he looked around on the other side of the waterfall. “Shenz, if I knew we’d be running into another of these, I’d have left some room in my pack.”
I walked around, my eyes searching the shelves. It wasn’t half so elaborate as the kings’, but it was stunning just the same. My eyes though, were searching for one thing and one thing only.
“How do we get out?” Jaz wondered curiously, picking up a necklace and putting it around her neck where several others already hung.
“I think we’ll have to go back the way we came.” I said, my mind only partially into the answer, the rest of me searching, searching, searching. I recognized several rare things that could become useful but no Rubric. Yellow, yellow, a flash of yellow, that’s all I need. A yellow that was not gold.
Then I saw it, right on a top shelf. I touched it with my bandaged – and therefore, ungloved – hand to lift it down and gasped when I felt a tingling in my hand and elbow as my wounds healed. More, my entire body felt rejuvenated, as if I’d just had the best nap in the land.
I turned to see that Arion had followed me. He was frowning at me with a look of disapproval, and I knew that had put the pieces together and now knew I’d done this on purpose. That we had not needed to come here. I felt something in me clench at the fact that I’d disappointed him, but no, this was worth it.
As if to prove that my semi-betrayal was worth it, I pressed the gem up against his face and watched his eyes widen and brighten, watched him stand taller and move his shoulders around, stretching the muscle that must have been hurt when he’d protected me from the stones falling in the dungeon.
Too late, I wondered if the king had the Grey Stone searching for anything about the Ruberous Faun as well. If he did, he’d come for it when we got out of here. I should not have shown Arion whose thoughts were no safer than anyone else’s in this land. My only hope was that Arion could not remember the name of it. If he didn’t think the name, the Stone wouldn’t hear him, and therefore, Marqis would not hear him.
“The Ruby... thing.” He realized and I almost smiled, hopefully that would be enough.
“We should go quickly.” I said.
He narrowed his eyes again. “Yes. No time to waste.”
I winced at his scolding tone but turned away. It wasn’t the first time he’d spoken to me so sharply, so why would it bother me now when it never had before?
“We need to get out of here.” I said to the three, trying desperately to keep Arion out of the conversation. “There’s a way out through the twentieth floor, an emergency exit used during the war, so we can go back the way we came.”
Aitch frowned with confusion. “You mean through the throne room?”
His frown deepened in disappointment now as he understood what that meant but then shrugged and took another handful of crystals, shoving them in his pocket as if it didn’t matter if I betrayed them so long as he got some more riches out of it. At this point, he had so much gold and so many crystals that his cloak was dragging on the floor and he had tightened his belt. I was surprised more could fit without bursting the seams.
Jazera slipped a few more necklaces over her neck in a determined way, not an uncaring way. She was furious, and she made sure I knew it. Rian gave me a sad look but motioned for me to lead the way. We’d talk later, that look said. He would give me the benefit of the doubt until I had time to give him answers. But I knew that once again, I would have no explanation. How such a good man could possibly be my friend, I had no idea.
I couldn’t wait for the day that I could tell him the truth of who I was. I’ll give you the world. I vowed silently, yet again. Then, And I’ll give you your voice. I promise.
We went up to the closed door and grimaced in sync when we heard the snarls on the other side of it.
“How many are out there, do you think?” I asked, turning to Arion.
But Arion couldn’t seem to look at me at that moment. “Doesn’t matter, we have to get through.”
“Will they get bored and leave?”
“Eventually.” Jazera answered with a grimace. “But not before they draw the attention of another werm. They’re loud."
Great. As awesome as it was that I killed one, it’s not something I wanted to repeat at all.
I pulled out my sword and stood back. Jazera went behind us, pulling her bow, Rian at the back to help guard Jazera so she could shoot her arrows without hinderance, and Aitch leading with it axes.
He grinned widely suddenly, his enthusiasm for any challenge making me fear it was going to get him killed sooner rather than later. “Here we go.” He said and yanked opened the door with a yell and stormed the hallway, his wide frame not allowing the beasts to enter.
Then we ran.
But the ceberous mutts were not like they were the last two times, because this time, they were not herding us; they’d had us cornered already and we were not supposed to leave.
Thus, they attacked immediately.
With it being so dark, it was impossible to count them, but there were many and they looked rabid in their hunger. I killed three using only raw instinct to do so, then was almost bit by another to which I cut a head off of while I was bitten on the back of the leg. Arion got that one for me, then grabbed me around the waist again, yanking me along with him.
But I pulled away. “I’m fine!” I called. I wasn’t even out of breath. He didn’t need to protect me so much!
He gave me a warning look and grabbed my arm, being sure I stayed close.
In the throne room, we tried to close the doors, but they were simply too heavy. It was a waste of time and we were forced to fight our way into the gate room. The mutts falling after us like a black wave of teeth and snarls.
“Mir!” Arion shouted with impatience when I didn’t immediately move.
“I know!” I snapped, rushing to the center of the room and figuring out the code again so that we could get out. I rushed around, wishing I could make my mind work like it did inside the gate. Wishing I could combine the three levels of my mind right here and now so that I could have the code figured out in half seconds and inhales.
“Shush!” I yelled, running to find the last code.
You’re not helping! I wanted to scream, but my mind was working too hard to waste time on it. I quickly entered in the code and started it up by clicking it into place. The waterfall went backwards.
“Got it!” I screeched, fear in my voice along with the excitement of getting the code warping my tone several octaves higher than normal. I whipped around to watch the others come. Like last time, the four Shadows moved backward toward the gate in a practiced synchronization, but unlike last time, Rian was limping.
I felt alarm and it came out in my tone as much as the panic had. “Rian!”
“Jazera! Take her and get out of here!” Arion shouted.
“Wait!” I protested.
Unlike before when Jazera had me follow her, she grabbed my arm roughly and yanked me through, and again I was suspended in that form of mind of turning seconds into minutes.
In this time, I told myself that they would be fine. I told myself that the Shadows could take care of themselves. That Rian was stronger than most assumed and neither Arion nor Aitch would allow his limp to hinder his escape. I told myself that all of them were behind us, and if I could just turn my head, I’d see the three of them there in their own frozen second of time.
I told myself many things.
But I had far too much time to spare, alone in my thoughts, and it told me that Rian’s limp was bad. That for a Shadow to show such weakness meant it was even worse than he made it seem. And then I remembered Arion’s tone of voice, and only now heard the waver of fear he’d had in his tone when he shouted at Jazera to get me out.
Then, Jazera and I were on the other side and we both stopped. I twisted and knelt in front of the spheres...
Only to realize I couldn’t remember the numbers. Not even one of them. They had been erased from my mind the very second I’d seen Rian limping.
“The code!” I cried. “I can’t remember the code!”
Jazera, only just letting go of my arm, grabbed it again and yanked me to my feet roughly. “Let’s move! Get ready to run!”
But I had the Ruberous Faun, I remembered. I could heal them!
I yanked away from her grip and went to run back in, but she managed to grab ahold of me again. I turned to hit her, to force her to let me go, but Arion was suddenly there and grasping my arm in his own tight grip, preventing my fist from moving toward Jazera’s face.
“Close it!” He demanded.
I turned to see only Aitch fighting off a mutt at the waterfall.
“He’s bloody gone, Mir, now close it!”
“But I can heal him.” I said numbly. “I have the–”
He shook me violently. “He’s gone! He’s bloody gone! Now close the bloody gate!”
“But I can’t remember it!”
He barked out a curse and yanked at me roughly, calling out for Aitch whose eyes seemed especially shiny in the flickering light. He was not full on crying, but those eyes were filled with so much sadness and emotion that it truly hit me. I understood that Rian, sweet Rian, was truly gone.
Together, the four of us ran out of the room and took off down the hallway.
Which way? Which way?
“Right! Turn right here!”
He’s dead. Rian’s gone. He’s dead.
We almost passed it, swiveled, went through.
There was something down the hallway running toward us, but Jaz shot an arrow and it wasn’t until we leaped over the body did I find out it had been a young spikehog, probably coming out for its very first kill.
The mutts killed Rian.
We reached the staircase. “Go down go down go down!” As we ran down, taking the stairs dangerously three or four at a time, the mutts used it to their advantage and leaped down entire flights, forcing us to turn and fight them off, taking precious time to cut down several of them before twisting and running again.
“Another right! Then a sharp lef-”
A snake, just like the one in the dungeon, burst out of a room, striking both Arion and I in one shot, cracking one of my ribs and piercing something in the process with its sharp fangs, each the length of my middle finger. I fell but then stood just as quickly though I had yet to heave in a breath. There was no other choice and I knew that the mutts were on us and the Ruberous would heal me.
I let only my instincts take over as I cut off the snakes’ head and then turned, cutting the head off a mutt that was close enough that the blood squirted into my face as it did. I barely noticed, spinning for the next one even as my bandaged hand reached into my cloak and gripped onto the Ruberous, the healing just as painful as the injuries. I wondered how much pain Rian had been in when he died.
I’ll let myself hurt later. I told myself. Rian’s face flashed across my mind though I’d meant physical pain. My second though was true for both physical and spiritual. Right now, I don’t have the time to hurt.
“Arion!” I shouted at him, panic creeping into my tone. Though I was far from fully healed, I was almost and so I dropped the gem onto his face. But I didn’t have the time to be sure if it was doing the trick; they were converging on me now, overwhelming me and they would get through the path to Arion that I was blocking at any second.
It was only because I had been completely healed of both injury and exhaustion earlier in Çonahn’s treasure room that I was able to keep it up now for this long. If I hadn’t been healed then, Arion and I would have already been dead.
Then Aitch was at my side, pushing me back even as his axe’s moved with shocking speed and deadly strength, telling me to get Arion to his feet. An arrow shot passed, the pack began to get pulled back, there was hope.
Except there seemed to be a never-ending amount of them, had another pack joined theirs? Or was this just one massive pack?
I grabbed the Ruberous which had not remained on his face after all and smashed it onto Arion’s head where it was bleeding. He must have hit his head on the stone wall when the snake pushed him into it.
“Arion!” I shouted at him, my voice letting out a squeak. Not because I was panicked – though I was beginning to do just that – but because of the strain on my vocal cords at the loudness of it.
He blinked awake, squinting up at me in confusion. “What is bloody wrong with your voice?” He asked.
There wasn’t time to roll my eyes. “Arion, you have to get up! Do you hear me?”
He blinked again, then seemed to understand and remember everything all at once and yanked himself to his feet deftly. He whistled, which must have meant something to the others because they began to retreat and follow. I still held the gem, but now I put it between our palms as I joined his hand with mine to keep us both healed constantly. It felt odd having the bare tips of my fingers touching the skin of another. His skin was warm, the back of his hand smoother than I thought it would be.
Faster than I thought, we finally made it there.
There, to our only escape now, and hopefully one that wouldn’t kill us faster than the mutts.
“Jump!” I shouted and yanked my hand out of Arion’s so that I could clasp closed the pockets of my cloak and then I was in blinding sunlight and I jumped.
I saw nothing but sky, yet I felt everything.
I had a moment where my mind worked together as one and I heard my breath, I knew how I needed to move my legs, I felt the sun on my face, warm and bright, and smelled pine and fog and water.
For two breaths this happened. So clear and so very precise. I wasn’t even sure how I did it.
And then I was falling down into where there was once a lake, where the surviving elves of the kingdom once escaped their home.
I severely hoped, with everything in me, that the lake was still there.