Maul led the way down the long hall and right to the back where a stone door guarded by two heavily armored dwarves sat.
“Yer cart to the docklands waits for ya Maul,” One of the guards said gruffly, “No deviations ya hear?”
“I know what King Drait said,” Maul assured the dwarf as the doors opened.
Vhindr gave the two guards a cut nod as he followed through to a large docking station that spread out to the sides. At specific intervals down each side there were built special tracks for carts to run along. Each of the tracks disappeared into the dark mouths of tunnels where only the faintest of lights shone.
“Where do you suppose those tunnels lead?” Valianna asked curiously as Maul led them to the left and down to the other end of the theater.
“Different locations of the city I’d say,” Bel’eak replied as he watched one of the carts roll away from the docking point and quietly disappear into the tunnel.
“Hey Maul, how many sections of the city are there?” Valianna called out to the old dwarf at the lead.
“There are several,” Maul replied over his shoulder hesitantly, “That is all I can really say on that matter my dear, so please don’t ask any more questions.”
“We are heading to ‘docklands’, is that correct?” Bel’eak inquired.
“Yes,” Maul nodded.
“I did not know the dwarves of the Scarred Mountains did much fishing,” Vhindr remarked.
“It is for trade,” Maul said simply as they came to the last cart in the line, “Please hop on board.”
Vhindr was quick to follow Maul and climbed into the many seated cart. As he sat down on the comfortable stone seat he looked over the side and curiously examined the metal rails and cleverly designed wheels of the open roof carriage.
“Your King has certainly put a lot of effort into facilitating trade with cities of Men,” Vhindr remarked and looked to Maul who sat facing him.
“It is the way of the future,” Maul replied with a slight smile, “Is everyone on?”
“Hurry up Legin,” Valianna said emphatically as the young man still stood on the platform. “Here, sit next to me.”
“Does anyone else feel uncomfortable?” Legin asked, making no move to climb aboard.
“No,” Rhalin remarked quietly as she sat with crossed arms beside Vhindr.
“Move it monkey boy,” Kōrrin grumbled.
“Come on Legin,” Bel’eak sighed heavily sitting between Rhalin and Kōrrin, “Was it not you who said that there are no limitations, neither mental nor physical? That if one can overcome his fears he will become stronger for it?”
“I did,” Legin firmed his jaw, “You’re right.”
Taking a deep breath Legin jumped into the cart and Maul pulled a lever at the front of the stone carriage.
Smoothly and quietly the cart moved away from the platform and the darkness of the tunnel engulfed them. Crystal lights intermittently sat on the walls of the tunnel and they soon were flying by them quickly as the wind whistled in their ears.
“Anyone else not liking this darkness?” Legin said uneasily, his voice easily heard above the soft noise of the wind and cart.
“Quit ya whining,” Kōrrin remarked gruffly, “It’s relaxing, what’s wrong with ya?”
“I’m not a Dwarf,” Legin was quick to say with annoyance.
“Here, this might help,” Maul said through the dimness.
As the dwarf finished his sentence a sudden blue flame lit up the area and Maul held it out before him.
“Your hands.” Valianna gasped.
“Catch.” Maul chuckled and tossed the flame to Valianna.
Instinctive she caught and sucked in her breath.
“Its … warm,” Valianna smiled, her features lit up buy the flame, “Why is it not burning?”
Maul chuckled louder, “It’s a Firelight. Created with a many sided ebonite stone etched with runes, it creates light, not heat.”
“It’s incredible,” Legin remarked as he lent close to the blue flame and even moved his hand through the fire.
Maul said something in Dwarven and the flame sudden began to drift between different colours. All the while completely undeterred by the wind that flew through the cart.
“It’s beautiful.” Valianna said in wonder, “Can you show me how to make one?”
“Dwarven secrets I’m afraid my dear,” Maul replied, “We have been making them to sell once the halls are opened. But I’ll tell you what, you may have that one.”
“Really?” Valianna beamed at the old dwarf and hugged him, “Thank you Maul. How to I turn it off and on though?”
As Valianna spoke the flame quickly disappeared and reappeared.
“I think you have your answer,” Vhindr remarked offhandedly and everyone had a laugh.
“Can you only do a flame?” Legin asked curiously.
“Not at all,” Maul replied as he stuck his hand into one of his pockets and pulled out a larger ebonite stone.
This one however was multifaceted, carved with many edges and flat surfaces and was easily twice the size of the one Valianna held.
“This is one I specially made to prove the concept,” Maul declared, “Much more intricate and sophisticated than the Firelight. It is made up of lots of triangles and we call it an icosahedron. If you look closely you will see that each of the flat surfaces is etched with runes.”
“Brilliant,” Rhalin remarked as she looked closer at the strange shape.
“No doubt very time consuming,” Vhindr added with a smile.
“Not for nothing though,” Maul smiled back, he then said a command word in Dwarven.
The icosahedron suddenly came alight with a magnificent white glow and it floated up from Maul’s hands, unmoved by the speed of the carriage. Small sparkles shot out from the glowing shape and drifted around it before disappearing once again.
“You people’s magicks are truly beyond me sometimes,” Bel’eak remarked and shook his head.
“Not the only one,” Kōrrin added, seemingly uninterested in the glowing stone.
“Here, Vhindr,” Maul said, ignoring the comments and he lightly pushed the floating shape towards Vhindr.
Carefully Vhindr caressed the stone without actually touching it and with a smile moved around in the air between his hands.
“Give me a go, Vhindr,” Valianna said as she still held the Firelight.
Vhindr ignored his sister’s request and gently moved it onto Rhalin who carefully took control of it with a smile. Rhalin laughed slightly as she studied the floating stone before she too passed it on to Bel’eak.
“Come on, over to me,” Valianna implored.
Again her demands were dismissed and Bel’eak spun the stone around his hands before he pushed it onto Kōrrin. Gruffly the bald dwarf just batted the thing over to Legin who readily took control of it and with a laugh sent it rolling up his arm and over his shoulders.
“My turn already,” Valianna whinged as Legin continued to play with the rune etched stone.
“Just wait Valianna,” Vhindr said irritably causing his sister to stick her tongue out at him.
After Legin continued to play with the glowing orb he eventually tossed it on to Valianna who held it gleefully with one hand while she cupped the Firelight with the other.
“How about a trade Maul?” Valianna turned her gaze to the old dwarf who just chuckled and shook his head.
The young Varrintine girl pouted, but she did not press the point and reluctantly moved the floating stone back to Maul. With a simple word the light within the stone vanished and it dropped into his waiting hand.
“I am curious,” Bel’eak spoke up, “Why is it that your Elder Speech sounds so different between races?”
“He weren’t speaking Elder tongue,” Kōrrin replied, “He was speaking Dwarven. Completely different.”
“Elder tongue is a form of common language between those of the Elder Races,” Vhindr clarified, “Meaning Elves, Dwarves, Mōrgul, Halflings and so on. Each of the races however has their own dialect separate from Elder Speech.”
“That makes sense,” the Nevārancien nodded.
“Doesn’t Nevārance have dwarves and elves?” Valianna asked curiously.
“No.” replied Bel’eak, “But there are different races. Only they are practically just variations of Man.”
“And Wyner are at the top of the hierarchy, yes?” Vhindr inquired.
“That’s right,” said Bel’eak, “We Wyner are the strongest and most intelligent, so naturally we are in control.”
“And the other races?” Rhalin raised an eyebrow.
“Subservient of course,” Bel’eak replied casually, “Look, I could go into the cultural standings of Nevārance, but I am sure you would all become bored very quickly.”
“Too right I would.” Kōrrin agreed.
“So would I,” added Legin and he stretched back in his seat with his hands above his head.
“Same,” Valianna remarked with a slight laugh before turning her attention to the old dwarf. “How much further to go Maul? This ride is taking an Age.”
“Not much further I should think,” Maul replied and craned his neck to look over his shoulder.
“I can see a light ahead,” Bel’eak remarked.
“Perfect timing,” Maul said cheerfully, for indeed they were coming to the end of the tunnel.
As the darkness fell away the cart slowed down and gently touched the stone of the platform, causing the lever to flick back automatically.
Vhindr was quick to disembark and stretch his back before walking with Maul from the cart station. The others followed close behind moving along the stone trail, crystal lights ran along the edges of the path and the ceiling was at comfortable height. The path split in two with one spur heading on a slight downwards gradient and the other continuing on at the same level. A pair of armed dwarves blocked the level path and Maul saluted them before heading along the lower road.
“What is in that direction?” Valianna inquired as they continued along.
“Docklands, what else,” Kōrrin replied.
“You know, you are very grumpy.” Valianna remarked.
“He doesn’t have a hand,” Legin was quick to say, “What do you expect?”
“I got an axe though, an’ if ye keep that talk up monkey boy I’ll chop ya tail off,” Kōrrin roared.
“You’d have to catch me first,” Legin baited and skipped ahead of the group with a laugh.
“Get back ‘ere,” Kōrrin shouted and pushed his way after Legin and down the gentle slope.
Vhindr laughed to himself and shook his head as he walked beside Maul. The path soon leveled out again and opened into a wide cavern. The smell of salt filled the air and a gently breeze blew in through a wide hole that opened onto the Western Oceania. The setting light from Inüer streamed through the caverns mouth causing the stone to glow orange and the gentle lapping waves against the wooden wharves to sparkle.
Kōrrin and Legin stood waiting for them, but their attention was upon the scene near the closest jetty.
“What’s this?” Vhindr wondered aloud as he saw a trio of armed dwarves corralling a man, who was looking quite scared.
“Ahoy there,” Maul called out as they approached the group, “What’s all this? Where did he come from?”
“Just appeared outta nowhere he did,” said one of the dwarves as he moved towards Maul. “Sayin’ some person was keepin’ him captive.”
“Wilks?” Vhindr moved in front of Maul and the man’s feature brightened.
“How are you here?” Rhalin demanded. “Where’s the assassin?”
Before the man could respond a cloaked figure suddenly appeared behind Wilk’s and a sword drove out the front of the man’s chest. Two green eyes peered over Wilk’s shoulder and with a flash of another sword the man’s head fell from his shoulders. As the dead body fell to the ground the two closest dwarves bared their axes only to go flying backwards with a motion of the assassin’s hand.
“I have you this time,” Vhindr declared and his Fog long sword appeared in his hand.
The assassin casually snapped his bloodied swords in sheaths at his hips before he casually turned his back on them and vanished into the setting sun.
A bright light suddenly flashed around the large cavern and the cloaked figures came flying through the air and slide across the smooth stone.
“I said I had you,” Vhindr smiled wide as he strode towards the spot where the assassin had slid.
Rhalin was quickly beside him and as they approached the assassin staggered back to his feet. But as his hood feel from his head Vhindr quickly realised it was in fact a woman, an elven woman at that.
“A snow elf,” Rhalin said. “From Frostback I’m sure, the tint of her blue hair is evident of that.”
Indeed the elf’s hair was not the usually stark white that was common among snow elves and in the light it held and distinctive bluish tint.
The elf winced as she straightened her shoulders to face Vhindr and Rhalin, but a look of hatred quickly masked her features.
“Who are you?” Vhindr demanded, “Why did you kill Baron Ellengar?”
“Are you from the snow elves of The Frostback?” Rhalin asked seriously.
The elf’s expression did not change and her swords flashed from their sheaths, causing Vhindr and Rhalin to stop walking.
“You cannot win,” stated Vhindr his eyes not leaving the icy stare of the snow elf.
“You cannot win.” The elf replied simply and Vhindr’s sword vanished into nothing.
“What?” Vhindr wondered in surprise. “My connection to the Fog is gone. How?”
“Void magicks,” Rhalin said distastefully and a slight smile came to the assassin’s face.
“I got her,” Legin declared loudly and he shot past Vhindr in a blur of Fog.
A loud crack echoed around the cavern as Legin thundered into the assassin, but she was up to the task of battling Legin. The air seemed to shatter around the two of them as the assassin knocked Legin back a few steps. Seizing the moment the elf sent Legin flying backwards through the air. Suddenly the elf was in the air beside Legin and grabbing his foot she slung him into the water between the jetties. Legin went into the cold waters with a great splash and the assassin lightly landed back on the stone. As she turned a hateful glare towards Vhindr, Legin exploded back out of the water and flew down upon the assassin. But Legin went right through the snow elf and sliding across the stone.
“Where’d she go?” Legin shouted as he jumped to his feet, water dripping from his hair and clothes.
“She’s gone.” Vhindr stated and growled to himself, “Teleported away, back to the ship no doubt. I think you are right Bel’eak, this assassin is making a very serious point. But she is also baiting us. Why? I do not know yet.”
“Wait, how come Legin could still use magicks when neither I nor Vhindr could?” Valianna asked aloud and everyone looked to Legin as he shook the water from his hair. “Do you know Void magicks Legin?”
“No,” Legin replied with a shrug, “I don’t think so.”
“But it seems you have been using them,” Rhalin said seriously.
“Wait, Void magicks is outlawed, right?” Legin looked to Vhindr.
“I won’t tell anyone,” Vhindr smiled slightly.
“Back up a bit here,” Kōrrin said loudly, “So that cutesy elf was the one who killed ‘ol Baron what’s-his-name?”
“Ellengar,” Rhalin corrected.
“Yeah him,” Kōrrin nodded, “An’ you lot are chasing her, but in reality she is baitin’ you to chase her and is really strong with them Void magicks? Am I the only one who thinks there’s somethin’ else going on ‘ere?”
“No,” Vhindr replied seriously, “There is indeed something else here that we do not know. But it will clearly be dangerous if we pursue it. So, Valianna you will be going home now.”
“Not likely,” his sister was quick to say.
“I cannot be concerned for your safety the next time we encounter this assassin,” Vhindr said sternly.
“I’m not going back home,” Valianna said just as forcefully.
“Don’t worry Vhindr, I’ll look after her,” Legin said with a smile.
“That’s not the point Legin,” Vhindr sighed.
“I will be coming as well,” Bel’eak added.
“Me too,” Kōrrin declared, “I’m always up for a good fight.”
“I think you have all missed my point,” Vhindr said tiredly.
“Or they all understood you perfectly,” Rhalin replied seriously, “Shall we get going?”
Vhindr ran a hand over his face and nodded before looking to the elderly dwarf who had been helping the trio of guards who were not injured.
“Maul?” Vhindr called to the white bearded dwarf.
“I’m definitely not joining you on this hunt my boy,” Maul shook his head, causing Vhindr to smile slightly, “But I shall show you the way out of our dwarven halls.”
“Please,” Vhindr replied and motioned for the dwarf to lead the way.
“Wet again,” Legin remarked as they trailed after Maul, “Why is it that every time I go into a Dwarf tunnel I end up drenched with water?”
“Don’t look at me,” Kōrrin protested, “I had nothin’ to do with it.”
“But you’re the common link between the two events,” Legin was quick to say.
“Twice is hardly enough times to start making generalisations,” Bel’eak remarked with a chuckle.
“It’s still his fault,” Legin replied before he sneezed. “Now I’m cold.”
“I can help with that,” Valianna said cheerfully, “Here give me your hand.”
Vhindr glanced over his shoulder as Maul headed through an archway and into the next cart station.
“Wait, let us get into the carriage first,” Valianna said as they entered the room and moved to the single cart dock at one of the many platforms.
Legin and Valianna sat down next to each other again and Legin hesitantly accepted Valianna’s hands, glancing to Vhindr in the process.
Vhindr held back his bemusement and watched as Valianna began to cast a spell of warmth. With a pull of a lever the cart rolled away from the platform and a feint glow began to emanate around Legin and Valianna’s hands.
“You’d think he’d never touched a girl before,” Kōrrin remarked softly to Bel’eak beside Vhindr, and the two of them chuckled.
The warmth of the spell increased to the point that each of the people in the cart was warmed by the golden glow between Legin and Valianna. As the light dissipated Legin let go of Valianna’s hands and a shiver ran up his spine.
“That was weird,” Legin said with a slight laugh.
“Feel warm and fuzzy now Legin?” Vhindr asked as he studied his friend.
“Yep, thanks Valianna,” replied Legin, “I’m all dry too.”
Vhindr looked away from Legin and his sister and rubbed a hand over his scarred eye as he gazed blankly at the lights flicking by them. There had been something strange about the assassin, apart from the bluish-white hair and her obvious youth; there was something in the way she had looked at him. It was as if she knew him, and such hatred had filled her green eyes as she looked at him.
“Why?” Vhindr mumbled to himself.
The question consumed his thoughts as he tried to remember if he had ever crossed paths with that particular elf before the assassination of Baron Ellengar. He knew deep down that he had not, and yet she had seemed to know him.
“Look we are here,” Legin exclaimed, breaking Vhindr’s concentration, “That was quick.”
“Yes, the stretch from Docklands to the North Gate is not as far as it is to the South Gate,” Maul replied as the carriage gently touched in at the platform.
“Well, I will be glad to be out of these tunnels,” Legin said as he was the first to jump from the cart.
“Well then, I won’t ever be invitin’ ye to my place ever again,” Kōrrin barked angrily, “Ungrateful, crazy monkey boy.”
“Hey,” Legin snapped back, “I’m not crazy anymore.”
Kōrrin laughed aloud as Maul led the way from the station.
“Ye don’t just become not crazy, boy,” the bald dwarf replied. “Ye were born crazy an’ ye always will be crazy. But that don’t mean it ain’t the good kinda crazy.”
“You mean your kind of crazy?” Bel’eak asked with an amused expression, causing Legin to laugh.
Kōrrin chuckled and gave the Nevārancien a menacing look, “No one will ever be like my kind o’ crazy.”
Bel’eak laughed with Legin but he gave the dwarf a concerned glance as they moved from the station room into a long hall with a high ceiling and thin pillars lining the road. At the opposite end of the hall stood a grand stone door that was heavily barred and shut.
“The way is shut Maul,” Vhindr remarked as they drew closer to the door.
“Yes,” nodded the dwarf, “We close them after dark. You will have to stay the night inside. I hope that will not delay you too long.”
“I don’t think time is a big issue now,” Rhalin replied, “The assassin wants us to follow and will be waiting for us regardless of a few hours.”
“I am sorry I cannot persuade the King to open the doors,” Maul sighed and shrugged, “But we cannot make exceptions.”
“No it is alright Maul,” Vhindr said as they came to a stop by one of the thin pillars. “Thank you for your aid.”
“Will you stay the night with us?” Valianna asked curiously.
“No I can’t,” Maul was quick to say, “I must be returning home, I have my Bynipps to feed.”
“Your what?” Legin scrunched up his face.
“They are small burrowing creatures,” Maul explained, “Very friendly, and helpful to us dwarves. I have three that come to my home every night.”
The old dwarf smiled and Valianna giggled.
“You have to show me,” the young Varrintine said enthusiastically.
“Another time of course,” Maul replied with a smile, “But until then I must bid you all farewell.”
“Bye Maul,” Valianna said and gave the dwarf a big hug, “Thank you such very much for all you have done.”
Vhindr and the others also bid their farewells and the old dwarf headed off back along the grand hall to the station at the other end.
“I am sick of lying on the ground,” Valianna grumbled as they went about setting up a camp around the pillar. “Do you think there are any proper beds nearby?”
None replied as they went about making themselves comfortable and Vhindr conjured a magickal fire as he sat down.
“That assassin-elf sure didn’t like you, hey Vhindr,” Legin remarked with a laugh as she sat down beside Vhindr.
“I don’t think she was too fond of Rhalin either,” added Bel’eak as he too found a seat. “Have you met her before?”
Vhindr shook his head as he gazed into the fire.
“Rhalin?” asked Legin, looking to the investigator from Gaianaus across the flames.
“No,” Rhalin replied, “I had never seen her before.”
“Well that’s kind of odd,” Bel’eak said.
“Hey guys?” Valianna spoke up, “Do you mind if I pile all your bedrolls together so I can sleep comfortably?”
“Not likely,” Bel’eak was quick to say.
“No chance,” said Legin.
“Please?” Valianna gave the two of them a pleading expression.
“You willing to trade anything for it?” Bel’eak asked and raised an eyebrow.
The young girl gave the Nevārancien a mischievous smile.
“Well-” Valianna began, but Vhindr cut her off.
“Make do with your own Valianna,” Vhindr said loudly, “You knew what it would be like travelling on the road. You can go home if you do not like it.”
Valianna pouted and sighed, but she said no more.
The night ended quickly from there and after they ate some food they all found their beds and drifted off to sleep. Again Vhindr was the last one awake as he continued to stare into the magickal fire. The dance of the Fog coloured flames pulling him into a deep trace where his thoughts consumed him.