CAVERN BETWEEN WORLDS:
A Tale of the Far Isles Half-Elven
M. K. Theodoratus
Copyright 2011, M. K. Theodoratus. All Rights Reserved.
Freedom. Thoughts of her coming leave teased like ripe plums. She signed the last requisition with an illegible scrawl, and the quill plopped into the ink pot. Time for a change of scenery, free from camp politicks … and the gossips waiting for some misstep to chew on.
Captain Hattenel, of the Half-Elven rangers, bit her lip to suppress a smile as she listened to Aberfan, her aide, cluck in the outer room. As soon as she had announced she was taking her leave this time around, the man had gone all granny on her, giving her more advice than her mother had ever dared. The old goat treated her as if she was an underaged stripling who needed wrapping in cotton wool. The sound of his stockinged feet whispered across the plank floor, and she dropped her gaze as if the supply request on her desk engrossed her attention.
Aberfan, a grizzled veteran of the ancient southern wars, grunted to catch Hattenel’s attention. He threw a letter on the empty desk. “One last … er … urgent request. Deny it, sir, and you’re free to enjoy your leave.”
Hattenel glanced up to his scowling face and stiffened at his attempt to make her decision for her. “Deny … what?”
“Nothing worth wasting leave time on, I assure you.”
“Shouldn’t I decide that?”
His lips moved his drooping mustache in and out. “Captain Voronlig, of the Sea Spray, requests permission to explore some mystery down in the Suthron rookeries. Claims the enemy isn’t watching them closely enough.” The veteran rangers cleared his throat. “You may not know of him, but he’s a trouble-maker. The sergeants kicked him out of camp early as a cadet. The scouts suspect his crews …”
“He indulges in unauthorized piracy?”
Hattenel didn’t resist teasing him. According to Aberfan, everyone caused trouble except for, maybe, the sergeants under their command … sometimes. Hattenel stroked the scar, a souvenir from a Suthron patrol when she was caught trying to escape to the Marches from Suderlands as a stripling, along her cheek.
“Voron?” She leaned back in her chair, battle-scarred fingers tapping on her desk. “The name’s familiar. Where … have I heard … that name before?”
“Twitchy fellow.” Puzzlement filled her aide’s face. “Can’t understand how, but he captains a merchant ship even if he’s podgy as a well fed mouse… Ship always seems to turn up where it shouldn’t.”
“How is that important if his crew doesn’t mind?”
“This time he has some tick chewing his arse about investigating some danger to our fishing fleets. I’d say the danger’d come if he got caught disturbing the truce with the Suthrons.”
Hattenel remembered Voron’s book describing his far travels in the Pashalands. The western militia captains had discussed him and his book in the mess late one night. While his observations were respected in the military council, most Half-Elven thought him a blithering idiot since he seldom returned to the Marches with a saleable cargo. The conflicting images made her curiosity itch.
Hiding her interest, she said, “I’ll look into it on my way home. I’ll complete the paperwork when I return.”
“Not a good idea to let loose ends dangle, sir. Never know what might happen. You could scribble something and send it back. Maybe on a piece of his hide?”
“Sergeant, the paperwork can wait until I return.”
When she shifted from headquarters to the coastal hedge tavern indicated in the message, she found Voron bending over a large map spread out on a table set in an alcove. Light pierced through the grime of the small windows, revealing a wide, unappealing rump. His lank, unbraided hair, the grayish brown of mouse fur, brushed the table top. Hattenel had never seen such a flabby Half-Elven, even among the merchants and traders. Using elf powers used enormous amounts of energy.
Stale ale and wood smoke permeated the air, and a stink from the rushes on the floor rose when she stepped nearer. Hattenel wrinkled her nose, but she heeded her prickling battle senses even though she sensed no obvious magic. She shadowed her presence from his ken even though the tavern was empty this early in the afternoon. Hattenel hoped to glean more information before she confronted him.
A well fed mouse, indeed. How could such as he be dangerous? Hattenel touched the deep scar along her cheek. Never assume … anything.
Aberfan was right. The tall sailor did twitch. First, he glanced from his journal to the map and back again. When he stood, he waved his hands as he stared out the window, speaking in a soft murmur as if rehearsing. Repeated the process. The longer she watched, the more he appeared a foolish twit, but she had read his book. Hattenel sent a delicate mental probe to solve the discrepancy. Her eyes narrowed in surprise at the strength of his shields. The miserable image of a man worked a glamour as dense as the Wall separating the Marches from the Suderlands.
Is he avoiding military service by pretending to be an idiot? If so, the lord high commander should know.
With enemies surrounding the Marches, the high command needed the talents of all Half-Elven, even the most unlikely, to survive. Though tempted, Hattenel decided not to challenge him. At need, merchant ships could be commandeered into the militia so, technically, he fulfilled his military duty. His book suggested sailing the seas made a better use of his talents than keeping watch for enemies along the northern coasts.
Yet, he wants to waste his time exploring an off-shore mystery he refuses to explain. Intrigued where she expected to be bored, she unshadowed. “Did you loose something?”
Voron blinked as he swung around to face her, surprising her because he was as tall as she in spite of the glamour. Hattenel struggled to keep her expression blank. An ironic smile lit his face as a hint of magical energy sparked in the air. Before she could raise an eyebrow, his dampers smothered it. His voice was as soft as his appearance and barely carried in the silence.
“Only rehearsing, Captain. You have a reputation as being a difficult audience.” His expression darkened as he met her stare. When she said nothing, he added, “You can’t deny my request before you hear me out.”
“One question. What happens if a Suthron patrol discovers you?”
Hattenel gave an evil chuckle. “You’d bet your ship on it?”
“They won’t. Their fishing fleets avoid the rookery because they’ve already lost too many boats there. The pieces of prows lying in the sand first alerted me to the mystery, and I’ve never seen a Suthron sailing vessel over many visits. Besides, my ship is anchored in Michaelsport.”
“How do you travel to the rookeries? Even a small sailing vessel is valuable.”
“I’ll transfer. If someone discovers me, I’ll say my skiff got blown off course and sank on a rock. There’s plenty of wreckage about to support my excuse.” His expression hardened, almost revealing steel beneath the glamour. At least a century younger than she, he was uncowed by her high rank. “I’m not a fool, Captain, whatever my reputation.” His chest moved in a silent chuckle as a knowing smirk lit his face.
“Prove it.” Hattenel sat down, turning the map towards her. She rested her chin on her folded hands, but the ghost of amusement didn’t disappear from her face. She pointed at the map. “Tell me, what do these broad arrows mean? I thought sea currents didn’t move along the coast lines so closely. Where do they come from? There’re no arrows showing its path.”
“The vortex only swirls around the northern most isle. I formally request permission to explore the oddity to see if it presents a danger to Half-Elven fishing and shipping, … sir.” His expression hardened. “There. Does that meet your protocols?”
Looking about for some crew member, she asked, “Who accompanies you on this venture?”
“I can transfer alone easily enough, but I want official permission to cover my arse.”
Remembering Aberfan’s hints about irregularities, she demanded, “Give me one reason why I should give it.”
“I gave it. The vortex is an unknown and could prove dangerous to our ships.”
“And you feel obligated to save the Marches from this unknown danger?”
“It’ll suffice for a reason.”
“Who will report your findings if you die?” Hattenel shook her head, not accepting his argument. “Why don’t you return to your ship and give up on this futile quest.”
“It’s too late to ignore the mystery.” Voron took a deep breath, not giving her time to respond. “So what if I die? Then, only one dies. If I don’t return, you’ll know you need to investigate further. The Suthrons grumble we destroy their ships. They threaten to close their ports to our traders and demand indemnities from us for their lost shipping. Those facts alone should convince you of the need.” He jabbed a finger at her. “Whatever it is kills. All the animal life on the island has disappeared.”
The sailor did not back down from the danger or her rank. Hattenel was impressed by his courage. Or, is it plain stubbornness? The scar furrowing the length of her cheek protested when she smiled. She still didn’t speak.
Voron’s voice turned into a growl. “Woman, give me my permission and go back to shuffling your papers.”
Remaining calm despite his display of temper, she said, “Your discovery lies outside the Marches … and my jurisdiction. I can’t give you permission. Linden would have my hide.”
His voice was bleak with defeat. “The vortex grows and is three times as large as the last time I visited.”
With her curiosity rising to the lure, Hattenel spoke softly rather than in her drill voice. “What are you expecting to find this time?”
“I don’t know.” Voron blinked when she didn’t shout. “Why do you think I need to explore it? I hadn’t expected the vortex to grow so large in such a short time.”
His jaw clenched. Frissons of energy from his mental curses raised the hair along her arms. His forward-leaning stance demanded she give him permission to investigate. She was tempted to destroy his glamour just to show she could, but her curiosity had pricked its ears, wanted to know more. The last decades had been filled with too far too many reports and not enough action.
If the danger is growing … She bit her lip knowing that Linden, the lord high commander of the Marches, would flay her alive if he found out what she planned. Before she debated any further, Hattenel stood. “I’ll accompany you. You need someone at your back.”
Beneath her shell, she grinned like a skipping child playing truant. A visit to the rookery’ll be more interesting than teasing trout.
Voron sputtered. She’ll give up as soon as she gets sand in her boots.
Hattenel caught the thought without his using mindspeak and hid her amusement.
He grabbed his pack and said, “Let’s get on with it, then.”
The two landed in the shadow of a slanting, two-pronged formation of black rock. The sea crooned in her ears as the soft breeze caressed her face. Hattenel turned on the low bluff to get her bearings. The ocean swept towards the island in long rolling swells until they crashed on the shelf to foam over the sand. Fog obscured the other islands in the chain.
Hattenel turned a full circle, savoring the quiet until the alarms went off in her head. Her hand reached for her absent sword hilt. With a shock, she realized both of them were unarmed except for their boot knives. Dolt, aren’t you a little old to jump without looking? Hattenel reviewed her options. Just as well. Someone would notice my sword going missing from the rack.
The sighing of wind and wave nagged at her senses. Most rookeries teemed with life. Here, no movement caught her gaze but the sea. Scattered clumps of yellowish grass spiked through the sand, and the clutter of scrub along the approaches to the beach had dried into twigs. Not a single sand piper chased the waves as they retreated from the shore. No gulls, terns, or any other bird circled in the sky. The island was denuded of life.
“Where are the birds?” she asked, perplexed.
Voron shrugged. “They’re gone. No seals on the outer rocks either.”
“What’s the hum? It’s calling me … promising me …”
“You hear it too?” Voron relaxed with her confirmation. Hattenel thought it odd his belly no longer sagged. “The pull is stronger on the other side where the cave is.”
A smile teased her lips as she shook her head, but she squashed the impulse to laugh. When he scowled, Hattenel could no longer contain herself. She guffawed. “You were going to explore a cave … alone?”
“You think I’d endanger one of my crew?” Hattenel grinned at him as he straightened, almost revealing his hidden self. “You’ve had your laugh. Now, go back to your papers and leave me alone.”
His control of the glamour flickered like a candle. Hattenel decided annoying him was much more fun than tickling trout. “Show me this annoying cave. The sooner we understand its secrets, the sooner we can go home.”
The two lifted to the entrance with him grumbling under his breath behind her. Their feet left dents in the loose bare soil. The cavern plunged so deep into a hill overlooking the empty beach that a cold waft of air surrounded them. The sound increased as it changed to a seductive pitch. After her thoughts of fishing, she realized the hum was a lure … calling to them … enticing them into the cave. Voron stuck a finger in his ear and shook it as if the vibrations tickled.
“Nasty,” said Hattenel. “Have you encountered the like before?”
“Rumors only. None good.”
With a frown, she said, “I keep thinking I hear words underneath the drone. Can you?”
“It’s no language I know.”
“How clear are the words to you?”
“I hear only pitches.”
“Maybe the sounds will be clearer inside the cave. Do you have a rope?”
Voron unwound his sling from his waist and tied it to their belts. Hattenel watched as his fingers flickered from sausage-shaped to long and sinewy. Not giving her a chance to take the lead, he snapped his fingers to create a bluish werelight before striding deeper into the cavern. Hattenel followed and added her werelight to his. Voron set an unsafe pace, daring her to drag her feet or order him to slow down. Hattenel expanded the werelight so he could see several feet around the shield of magical energy she raised without him asking. The werelight revealed little. As far as Hattenel could tell, the cavern walls were as smooth and black as obsidian.
His pace slowed when they entered a rounded chamber. The werelights reflected off thousands of multi-colored crystals protruding from the walls and ceiling. The polished floor enhanced the light until the cave seemed as bright as day. Hattenel stopped at his shoulder, looking around until their eyes met. A rapport opened between them as wonder filled both. They turned in unison, tethered close by the sling. Cool air, scented by the sea, brushed their faces from different directions, indicating other entrances. Prickling chills ran down Hattenel’s back.
“Beautiful. If this wasn’t in a cave, I’d think someone placed the crystals in patterns,” she whispered. “What’s the catch?”
“You imagining this is a trap?” Voron cleared his throat. “Nothing threatens us. The cave’s as empty as the island.”
The dark walls snapped closed. The floor tilted to hurl them through a tunnel of darkness. The two tumbled until the sling tethered them tight together. When they landed with a thud, hot and heavy air pressed against them. Hattenel felt as if huge hands reached under her ribs, squeezing the air from her lungs. Voron sprawled on his back, his glamour no longer hiding his lean, muscular frame. Her eyes narrowed as she lifted her head from his chest. She scanned the chamber, ignoring him as he gasped for breath.
Hattenel rolled off of him and concentrated on sitting up. She pulled her feet back from the oily ring of pulsating darkness hemmed them in. She scooted until her back rested against his. The smell the circle cast made her cough.
“Smells foul.” Hattenel tried to camouflage her fear. “Where’s an ocean breeze when you need one?”
“Smells better than the shit-covered bird cliffs by my place when the wind’s in the wrong direction.” Voron tried to sound amused, but she noticed when he gulped and licked his lips.
Flickering torches, set in sconces around the wall, lit a circular room. Sconces, set on each side, marked a wide arch with a stairway leading away from the pit or cellar. Without speaking, they extinguished their werelights and sat on the ground as far away from each other as possible. They faced the stairs to wait, their shoulders and knees still touching. The circle barely held two tall Half-Elven. The vaulted ceiling sparkled with gems set in the same pattern as in the cave. Hattenel fought for each breath, wishing again for the return of the light sea air.
Grim-faced, Voron stuck a tentative finger above the mist. Flames leapt and would have burned him if he had not jerked it back. When she didn’t criticize him, he struggled to his feet. Hattenel moved with him since the sling still tethered them. Flames flared again when Voron tried the maneuver higher. Taking out his boot knife, he repeated the test.
:We’re prisoners. His mindspeak whispered. :Can you breathe? I feel like I’m shifting rocks with my lungs.
When they heard heavy footsteps thumping on the stairs, the two sat cross-legged, their thighs touching. They gasped for air as both shifted to face the stairway. Loud voices spoke an unknown, pitched language. A fouler odor heralded the unseen newcomers.
Hattenel shivered and thanked the Fates Voron was more warrior than poltroon. :I think we best remain silent. If we’re lucky we’ll be able to read their thoughts without expending too much energy. Have you heard the language before?
Voron shook his head before he coughed.
Two dog-headed creatures with mottled olive and dark green skin trudged into sight. They stood upright on stumpy legs, revealing white bellies. Both creatures wore gray kilts with gold belts. The elder wore a narrow jeweled collar over his bare, caved-in torso. The pup’s ribs stuck out like spokes in a fish weir even though his chest was twice as wide as hers. The air in the cavern turned fetid as if the creatures had never bathed in their lives.
Voron’s jaw tightened. :Masks and paint?
The newcomers’ jaws hung open with their curled tongues hanging to one side of their brownish fangs. Hattenel’s shields popped up. The creatures didn’t wear masks. Without asking, Voron reinforced her power, giving her the strength to stretch her mind and pick images from their brains. A queasy feeling hit her stomach, but Hattenel pushed forward until she sensed what they thought.
“The trap caught something sentient this time.” The smaller one yipped a language filled with many different pitches. “What kind of demon are they? Have you ever seen such ugly, flat faces in your life?”
“Quiet. Let me think.”
The young one cringed back a step. The older creature considered the Half-Elven, his tongue moving in time with his breathing. His long-nailed hands sketched patterns in the air. The gems in his rings blinked in rhythm with the crystals in the ceiling. Hattenel ducked her head, closing her mind off from the creatures as she pulled Voron’s head towards his knees.
:Why did you do that? You hurt my neck.
:Big Stuff tried to spell us. We need to be close so we don’t leak energy.
Voron tried to lift her to his lap. She slid from his fingers to drop between his legs. Hattenel wondered if he realized how much personal information she had absorbed from his contact. Their fear matched each other’s, and she resigned herself to Voron reading her thoughts as well.
No use pretending false battle courage.
His mindspeak was a whisper as he wrapped his arms around her. :Sorry. Didn’t mean to drop you.
Once started, Hattenel couldn’t close down the rapport flowing between them. Trickles of personal information leaked back and forth between the Half-Elven underneath the impressions she relayed about their captors. Hattenel squirmed to one side, almost closed her mind when she caught the image of her stripling self in Voron’s mind. Her muscles clenched. She had thought she’d buried the image of herself cowering with fear just before a Suthron’s sword gave her the long scar disfiguring her face.
Hattenel cringed from her dark memories leaking between them until she discovered the stuttering, gap-toothed boy-Voron, a boy who broke everything he touched as he tried to learn how things worked. She almost laughed out loud at his memory of his first day at camp. The camp’s sergeants berated him for some infraction, but he flicked his nose at them as soon as their backs were turned.
:Such a submissive unfledged cadet! No wonder the sergeants shoved you out of camp early.
Voron wrapped his arms around her and steadied her on his lap.
The young creature exclaimed. “Look at the monkeys copulate!”
“Don’t be sillier than you are. I said quiet. If you can’t keep your mouth closed, leave.” The larger creature’s eyes narrowed as his hands waved again. Nothing happened. His hands clapped three times. “Monkey demons, I command you speak.” His voice thundered against the walls of the chamber.
When the two didn’t comply, the older dog-face’s stubby index finger sketched another series of flaming designs in the air. Both of them jerked their attention away and clawed their own flesh to avoid the mental binding he tried to weave.
:How different is his magic from ours?
“Don’t use mindspeak,” Hattenel whispered. “He might pick up the energy. Worse, he might seize it.”
Hattenel shrunk closer to his chest as Voron wrapped his arms tighter around her. While she nestled close to him in a submissive posture, she sent tightly focused probes from behind their shield to read deep into the creatures’ minds. Shared with Voron as he nuzzled her neck and stroked her arms.
The older creature huffed. “We need help. The monkeys only think of copulating.”
When the creatures left the room, Voron continued nuzzling beneath her ear. Licked the length of her throat and kissed the corner of her mouth.
“You can stop now.”
:You forget we’re monkeys. A smile grew on the lips touching her neck. :The gossip lies. Your skin feels nothing at all like raw cowhide.
“Attend to business,” she snapped. “The creatures went to get someone strong enough to strip the minds of the flat-faced uglies. They’re desperate to know if our world is habitable.”
“How can they invade our minds if we don’t want them to?”
“Pray you don’t find out.” With a snort, she looked down at the pack lying at his feet. “What’s in your pack anyway? Anything to eat? I need to replenish my energy.”
“Give me a kiss, and I’ll tell you,” he said, with a broad hopeful grin. When she glowered at him, he gave up on the kiss. “Apples and ship bread.”
Hattenel closed her eyes, sighing as deeply as she could in the heavy atmosphere. Don’t men think of anything else? She held out her hand. “Care to share?”
“Your wish is my command.”
The apple crunched as she bit into it. “You didn’t happen to bring any water, did you?” When he shook his head, she said, “I didn’t think so.” Hattenel searched the stairway as she swallowed. “They’ve moved beyond from my ken. The elder is ‘Runs in Circles’. The younger hasn’t earned a name yet and may never do so if Circles guesses right.”
“He sounded rather sure of himself to be running in circles.”
“The name refers to the herding of lesser beings. We arrived at an inconvenient time. His bitch went in heat, and he hurries to send for someone more powerful to torment us into revealing our secrets.” Hattenel bit on her lip. Her chest muscles ached from her labored breathing. “We have to get out of here.”
Voron hissed through his teeth, but he handed her the larger apple. “I know that. How stupid do you think I am?”
“Stupid enough to kiss me.”
While her gaze skewered him, Voron chewed his second apple down to the core. His face tight with anger, he threw it at the misty fence confining them. The charred core sailed through to the other side of the circle and disintegrated into sparks. The torches in the sconces flared wildly at the disturbance. Debris erupted from the floor in a whirlwind, lifting a section of wall away from the rest. The door pivoted back.
“Did you see the wall move? Do you think we can blast our way out of the circle if we combine?” Thumping footsteps came from the stairs. Voron pursed his lips as Hattenel caressed the hilt of her boot knife. “Here take a couple apples. They seem to be the only weapon we have.”
When two different creatures wearing wider, more elaborate jeweled collars entered the room, the Half-Elven were sitting side by side, cross legged with apples concealed in their hands under their knees. Both kept their thoughts tightly concealed. The newcomers argued, gesturing towards them, their voices growing louder and louder. One tried the finger waving trick again, but the Half-Elven captives fixated on the creatures’ knees and blanked their minds.
When nothing happened, the other captor gave an explosive yap that penetrated their shields. “I told you so. These beasts are as stupid as all the others.”
Hattenel leaned sideways and whispered. “I almost lost the shield.”
Voron’s muscles clenched. “Better throw the apples at them now. On three.”
Shielded for the moment, the apples, one after the other, exploded through the circle’s barrier, each hitting the nearest dog-faced creature square in the chest and stuck. While their captors imploded into an oily, misty pillar of flame that melted them into a puddle, the captives struggled to their feet against the pull of the floor.
Coughing, Hattenel leaned against him. “My lungs are collapsing. Throw the pack through the circle. Reinforce our shield with all you’ve got. I’ll do the transfer.” Hattenel grabbed him tight around the waist. “Fixate on the black pronged rock. The red star in the Bear rising just above the horizon at dawn.”
As soon as Voron threw his pack, Hattenel launched into the air, carrying them through the swinging door in the wall. :We did it. The strangled crow of Voron’s voice encouraged her to push forward.
Heat and darkness surrounded and weighed them down like millstones. Hattenel focused on the rookery landmark, willing their bodies to surface into the light and fresh air as if she swam through water. The smell of singed hair surrounded her, clogging her throat. The farther she pushed, the tighter her lungs became. Her energy wavered in the darkness as the journey exhausted her reserves. Just when she thought she’d drop into the darkness, another pulse of energy, each one weaker than the last, pushed her further through the murk. Her lungs screamed in the hot pitch-blackness that engulfed them.
The chord of the mantra — Slanting pronged rocks. Red star in the Bear at dawn. Pronged rocks. Beach – pulled her on. Hattenel willed her fingers to touch the black rocks when bathed in light.
The two Half-Elven tumbled onto the beach at sunset, their clothing and hair smoldering. As soon as their knees touched the sand, Hattenel pushed her last reserves into a bounce that lifted them into the surf. The remains of their charred shirts and her binding floated away on the swelling waves, leaving her bare breasted but unharmed. The hair on Voron’s chest smelled like burnt chicken feathers.
The waves washed away from them, leaving them gasping on the rocky sand. When the next waves swirled around them, Hattenel skimmed frissons of energy from them. By the time her breathing returned to normal, she realized Voron still gasped for breath. He could barely keep his head above the surf. She pulled him close and shared the energy she gleaned from the waves.
“You can work water?” Voron croaked more than spoke. “I can only absorb wind.”
“I can use both, but it takes a long time.”
“Let’s get back to shore.”
After crawling out of the water, they sprawled in the loose sand, letting the sea breezes blow over them until they could sit upright.
Voron brushed the sand off his boots. “Woman, you could have given me a chance to take my new boots off. Not only are they singed, they’re water logged.”
Hattenel chuckled, happy to be alive. “Be glad your bacon didn’t get sizzled.”
“How do you know I’m not maimed under the leather? I didn’t notice you looking.”
“Your breeches would be in as many pieces as your shirt if it had.” Hattenel giggled with relief. “Be glad we’re safe.”
“You certain we’re safe.”
The thought of the dog-headed creatures following them sent shudders through Hattenel. She closed her eyes against the knowledge of why seeking gateways to other worlds was listed as punishable by death.
She stumbled to her feet, using Voron’s shoulder as leverage. “Come. Let’s make sure they don’t find their way into our world. We need to close the gate.”
Lurching to the bluff near the cavern entrance, the two let the evening breezes flow over them and gathered energy to replenish their stores. Slowly, they built a ball of flashing energy.
When Hattenel judged the ball about the right size to cause the most damage without sticking in the cave’s tunnels, she held up her hand. “Enough. We can’t exhaust ourselves again.”
Voron gasped for air again. “Good. I was beginning to see spots in front of my face.”
The minutes dragged as they guided the sparking sphere into the earth, letting it roll down hill, pushing it when it became stuck in a dip, and shoving it around corners. Hattenel wiped the sweat from her forehead as she concentrated on the globe of energy’s path. Behind her, she heard Voron grumbling under his breath.
“We should have located the other entrances,” said Voron pit loud.
“I’m hoping we can destroy the world gate without wasting the energy to seal each one. We pushed the ball to where the tunnels meet in the crystal dome. If the Fates be kind, it should create enough rubble to seal everything.”
“You’ve that much power?”
“I’ve blown up walls before. This shouldn’t be much different. Haven’t you destroyed buildings before?”
“I try to stay friends with the people I meet. You make more money that way.”
Still, he clasped her shoulders to make his energy transfer easier. Hattenel cleared her mind of the image of Linden stripping her of her rank for shifting worlds and concentrated. Reaching out with her elvish senses, she measured the pulsing web of energy.
“We’ll engorge the ball and explode it. If it doesn’t destroy the gate, we have to go back to camp and bring others to help. May the Fates preserve us.”
“Go ahead. Get it done before we die of hunger.”
“Now.” Hattenel sent a combined surge of power straight to the ball, lighting a flame within its center.
The explosion ripped the side of the bluff apart. Dirt and rocks flew into the air and rained pebbles and dirt around them, clouding their vision. The slanting rocks landed inland where they toppled to the ground. Voron sank to his knees on a pile of rocks. Hattenel rested her hands on her knees for support as the waves lapped around her knees. Only her skill in transferring had kept her on her feet. Voron rose from the water, sputtering.
When their breathing returned to normal, Voron searched the empty beach. “We can’t too far from when we were, can we?”
“One never knows how much of the old stories are true.” Hattenel refrained from giving a cadet lecture on how shifting worlds was illegal, one of the few capital offenses among the Half-Elven. “Even Linden, the elf-lord’s son, says time runs different in the elf lands.”
“If we’re lucky,” said Voron, “no one will ever guess where or when we’ve been.”
“We weren’t in the elf lands, but some other place unknown. As far as I know, the scouts only watch the elf gates.” Hattenel shrugged. “Whatever, I’d like to be clean and presentable when we learn our fate.”
With a sudden move, Voron picked her up and transferred to a cottage on the western shore of the Marches. Gulls wheeled in the green-tinged sky, and a curious seal poked its head out of the rolling waves. Across the bay, Hattenel saw hundreds of birds darting back and forth along a sheer cliff face. Instead of the warm bath she wished for, Voron dumped her in the stream behind the shack, where a waterfall made a rocky pool. Ferns and wild flowers bloomed along the creek flowing down to the beach.
Hattenel cursed at the unexpected cold. “You didn’t give me enough time to take off my boots.”
“Tit for tat, woman.” Before she could snarl back, he transformed back into the doughy scholar as pebbles came bouncing down the bluff. He shoved her towards the cottage. “Inside.”
Surprising herself, she obeyed.
A wizened sailor came sliding down the bluff in his haste. “Voron, where the blazes have you been? I’ve been here twice to warn you.”
“Why do I need a warning?”
“Captain Hattenel disappeared after your meeting. If she don’t return to duty tomorrow when her leave is over, the scouts are going to skin you alive. Her aide’s threatening to nail your package on a pole in the middle of the ranger camp.”
As the sailor ranted about the dire fates awaiting Voron, Hattenel relaxed. They had only been gone three days, but, Voron still needed her at his back. Quickly, she stripped. Pulling on a man’s shirt from a pile on the floor, Hattenel made certain it was obvious she was naked underneath.
As she stepped into the last of the sunlight, she assumed a soft, puzzled manner. “Is there some problem, Voron?”
The sailor stared at her open mouthed before he tugged at his ear. “Oh, strike me down for a fool. Sorry, Captain. Won’t take no more of your time, sir. I’ll jest get me going.”
With a wave of his hand, he clamored back up the trail. Both watched as he scampered to the top, too bemused to dodge the falling scree.
“The man gossips like a fishwife. The entire Marches will know you’re with me within the hour.” Voron swallowed as he paled. “The gossips’ll assume you spent your leave here.”
“Sounds better to me than them finding out what we did.”
“Don’t you care for your reputation?”
Hattenel’s shoulders shook with relief. “Look on the bright side. You get to keep your privates.”
The two exchanged uneasy glances until their lips started twitching. Hattenel tried to contain the annoying tug at her scar but could not resist the wave of merriment. We’re home free of blame.
Both were roaring with laughter when Voron shed his glamour and pulled her into his arms. Hattenel stiffened against his lips before she relaxed and returned his kiss.
Note from the Author
Hope you enjoyed this story which was written to answer a question in Linden’s mind about how Hattenel and Voron even met, let alone became ring-mates. The short story is set up in the “in between times” – between the Rebellion and the Dark Solstice and Kerry trilogies.
If you want to learn more about the Far Isle Half-Elven, I network at a lot of places. First are my websites — author’s: www.mktheodoratus.com and the Far Isle Half-Elven: www.half-elven.com.
I can also be found on Twitter: @TakingVengeance and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Far-Isles-Half-Elven/100514986718681?ref=hl
I also mutter about being a writer and do fantasy book reviews at http://kaytheod.blogspot.com.