Into the Fire Mountains
Evan stepped on the portal stone and watched the shack dissolve around him. The top of his head felt like it sank into his feet and when that sensation eased, he felt as if he were being stretched back into shape slowly, like taffy being pulled. The world reassembled itself and he was standing in the mouth of a cave on the side of a mountain. From this altitude, he could see a large forest to the south. There was flat land covered by dry grass to the east and north.
A hint of sulfur was in the air. Evan peered up at the top of the mountain and saw it smoking. Immediately, he knew where he was.
The Fire Mountains, he thought. Hope the volcano doesn’t erupt in the next few hours.
Evan looked into the cave. It was dark and he could not make out very much. Iriel appeared, her bow ready to fire. She saw Evan and stepped over to him.
“We’ll wait for the others,” he said to her.
Iriel put up her bow but she held onto the arrow. Glancing south, she asked, “Is that Oldarmare?”
“Yes, I think so.”
She studied the ground. “I see no portal stones here. How do we get back?”
“We’ll walk if we have to. But something sent Ebalin back to the swamp so there must be a portal stone somewhere around here.”
James and Daniel arrived in quick succession. James appeared wide-eyed and patted himself down. “I guess I’m all here,” he mumbled. Daniel just looked around.
“Any signal yet, Daniel?” asked Evan.
“No, none.” His lower lip trembled and his eyes were bloodshot.
“No worries. We’ll find the gem,” Evan reassured him.
“Yes, of course we will,” Daniel replied without enthusiasm. Evan wondered if he meant what he said. The priest knew that the lad cared about Aure, but Evan hadn’t appreciated how deeply until now. Daniel was an orphan and alone in the world, like the gem; they had become friends, apparently very close ones. Now that the Elf-gem was gone, Daniel probably felt lost without it. Or worse, as he had said earlier, the gem might be dead. Daniel probably felt like mourning. It certainly looked as if he had been.
Brashani appeared and saw the others waiting. He glanced about and then said to Evan, “Let’s go.”
Evan, James, and Daniel lit torches and entered the cave. Iriel loaded her bow and followed them; Brashani created a small ball of hand fire and brought up the rear.
The walls were rough and colored pale brown. Dust and sand covered the floor and some rocks and stones were scattered about. The ceiling was high enough for them to stand upright, and in the distance Evan heard the sound of water running.
After a few minutes of searching the caves, James said, “So, where’s the exit?”
“It’s probably concealed so people can’t find it,” said Evan. “Brashani, sense any traps or magic in use?”
The wizard concentrated. “Traps, no. Magic, yes. I think I can dispel it.” He walked back into a deep corner of the cave and placed his hand on the wall in front of him.
Iriel gasped as the wall dissolved away like a ghost and revealed a narrow passage into the mountain.
“Nice job,” said Evan. He turned to the others and said, “Ready your weapons and be prepared for anything.”
James uncoiled his whip.
“Brashani, keep checking for traps.”
“Let’s go,” said Evan. He started down the passage. Iriel followed, with James, Daniel, and Brashani close behind.