DAY 14: The Elori – Part XIV

The man nodded and said brusquely, “I shall have my men prepare markers for you. Follow them, and they will lead you to the lower levels. They will be inconspicuous, of course, but you will see them if you remain observant.”

“What are you going to do with them when they see the city?” Kilgalan asked, and the man, who had made for the exit, turned and cast an earnest look on the boy’s face.

“I will adjure them, again, to leave this place. But if they do not comply, they will be… Compelled to leave.”

“Don’t lay a hand on them!” Kilgalan cried, and made to advance threateningly on the man, but the latter held up a gnarled hand and replied, “I will do what is necessary, and nothing more. What else could you ask of me? I have a duty to my people that must be fulfilled. I will complete that duty in any way I can. Out. Take a right here, a right at the next junction, and straight until you come to a dead end. Turn left there, and you will be returned to the hallway whence you had come; you know how to get to the rotunda from there.”

Kilgalan nodded, the man opened the door, and he exited, following the man’s instructions. As he made the second right at the first junction, the man called out to him, “And if you do not adhere to my instructions, there’s no describing the pain you shall suffer at my hands; is that clear?”

Kilgalan didn’t say anything, but glared at his opponent and then turned right down the passage. What gentleness he had seen in the man before was all but gone now.

It was awhile before he came to the dead end, and upon arrival at that spot – a dark, dusty recess in the otherwise open tunnel system – he turned left and traveled naught but fifty paces on an upward slope. In a mere fifteen minutes, he had returned to the hallway; he had been searching for hours in vain, and could have found his way if he had just been looking in the right places. He kicked himself and scolded himself over his callow imprudence.

He turned right and returned to the rotunda. Now, it was not empty. Bartholomew was sitting in the corner to his left, a lute in his hand, singing a pleasant lilt that abruptly soothed Kilgalan’s spirit; in the right corner, Vestra was lying with her back upon the cold stone floor, her eyes wide open and unblinking, and her lips twitching as if she was in deep concentration.

Initially, Bartholomew didn’t know that Kilgalan had entered; he was so involved with his music – so engaged in the beauty of it – that he was ignorant of all his surroundings. It wasn’t until Kilgalan timidly said, “Bartholomew?” that the man’s head snapped up, and he beheld the boy standing before him, bloodied and bruised.

Bartholomew deposited his lute on the ground and ran to Kilgalan, placing his hands on both the boy’s shoulders and saying, “What happened to you, boy? Why weren’t you here when we came? And what’s this blood caked all over your body?”

“I was looking for you, and I…”

“You met them, didn’t you?”

“Who?”

“The fraternity. The brotherhood,” Bartholomew stammered agitatedly, turning from Kilgalan and squinting his eyes at the far wall, contemplating his next course of action.

“Yes, he did mention…”

“He? Which he? The leader? Was his left hand mutilated?”

“Yes, I think so…”

“Bless me! That was him. Gather your things, Kilgalan; we’re leaving. Vestra, your training will resume when we find suitable accomodations.”

But Vestra was already preparing her supplies. Kilgalan noticed that she looked more cadaverous than before, and that her movements were lest vivacious and energetic.

“But he said that he would kill all of us if we didn’t comply…”

“He’s duping you, Kilgalan. Yes, he would kill us if we remained here and did not acquiesce to his wishes, but he has no power beyond these tunnels, and will not be able to reach us if we leave now.”

“He just wanted to prove to you that a city really does exist in the lower levels,” Kilgalan responded meekly. “He said that he just wanted you to believe him, so that you’d leave.”

“He’s getting his wish.”

“Is it true? That you didn’t believe there was a city?”

“It is. And I assure you that there isn’t. The leader’s name is Thardok, and he is no member of a “brootherhood”; he is at the head of a band of thieves and liars who have decided to call this place their home. In truth, it is not theirs; it once belonged to the Elori, before his band dislodged them.”

“Why haven’t you just left, then, if they’re such a danger?”

“It is difficult to explain. This is an important chamber; every Elori woman given the powers must come hear to train and to connect with the gift she has been given…”

Then, a cacophonous clangor erupted from somewhere down the hall, and raucous shouts could be heard echoing through the dismal corridor. Bartholomew was at once a fury of activity, crying, “They’re coming! They’re coming! Vestra has forgotten to erect the barriers!” and gathering up his things. The sounds steadily grew closer, until Kilgalan was certain they’d come into the rotunda at any moment.

“Now, Kilgalan! We’ve got to go now! Quickly, Vestra!”

But Vestra seemed to be looking for something. She scrambled about the chamber, checking every nook and cranny for her lost item. Bartholomew ran to her and tried to haul her away, but she cried, “The picture! I must have the picture!”

“You must leave it, Vestra!” Bartholomew exhorted, but Vestra was obstinate, and continued searching. At last, when the sounds were on the threshold of entering the rotunda, Vestra claimed her prize, and she and Bartholomew departed the room with celerity.

The shouts behind them pursued them like a persistent, moaning specter; the whole ordeal was a nightmarish situation that sent thrills of trepidation down Kilgalan’s spine.

To make matters worse, the boy tripped on a protruding rock upon the path, and fell, face first, to the dirt. He felt his nose pop, and an intense pain burgeoned in his entire face. Blood started to spill from his nostrils, and, coughing and groaning with discomfort and pain, he regained his footing with some assistance from his companions and pressed forward. All the while, though, he felt as though he would pass out, and more often than not wanted to fall upon the path and sleep as if it were the softest kip in the land.

He was tired, and by the fatigued looks on his companions’ faces, they were too. But Kilgalan could see a light up ahead, and he said, with renewed hope in his wearied voice, “Look! The exit! We might just make it out of here!”

Bartholomew and Vestra managed smiles as they continued forward.

But their joy was shortlived, for a silhouette slowly stepped in front of the exit, like a dreadful apparition, a sword clutched in its right hand, and a cloak drawn about its shoulders. All at once, Kilgalan’s heart sunk, and a terror filled him like a poison. They wouldn’t make it. This being would stop them. It was over. They ought to just halt now and let their enemies overtake them. It would save both parties the trouble.

But Bartholomew did not lose hope or courage, and raised his sword high, crying, “Rush him, friends! He cannot withstand all of us!”

That was the one hope that Kilgalan clung to as he charged wildly at the fiend before him…

TO BE CONTINUED…

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