AR 1216-06-22 Elsie Travels through the tunnel to Thunder Rift with the group
Elsie’s legs were doing much better the next day as they marched through the tunnel out of Hidden Valley. She was easily keeping up with the group, even in spite of darkness. The two dwarves, along with Yari, had gone ahead, not bothering with torches.
Back with the rest of the humans, Elsie dropped to the very end of the line after her turn to carry the torch was up. She found she liked the dark, and even without the eyes of a dwarf, she could actually see rather well, as long as the torchbearer was no more than about thirty feet in front of her.
The way was very smooth, like something had eaten its way through the rock. Elsie reminded herself that something had, in fact, eaten its way through; the dwarves had used a huge worm to help them reopen the tunnel. She quivered at the thought of what a monster like that could do to flesh, and hoped to never see one up close.
Her foot hit a rock and it went skittering a head. You alright? came Yari’s thoughts immediately.
Yeah, I just accidently hit a rock on the ground. Honest!
The man laughed in her head, which was a strange sensation. Where are you at right now? he asked.
I’m the last person in the line. Hey, you want to come join me for a bit? There is no actual light on me. We could hold hands and no one would even know it!
I’ll come talk, he thought at her, but no light means little to dwarves. Or, me.
In a moment, he was by her side, thumbs tucked into the front of his belt. “Heya,” he said, and bumped into her with his shoulder. “What’s the weather like down here?”
“Gloomy,” she said, “but fine. At least it’s not raining. Guess the gods took pity on my legs!”
Pretty sure that was me with your legs last night, Yari teased, but hey, if I was so good you’re comparing me to the gods themselves, I’ll take it!
Elsie laughed and blushed a little. “So, could you really see me from up there when you first turned around?”
“Me? Yeah, totally. I got great eyes,” he answered.
“I’m rather found of them,” she flirted.
“Ah, shucks,” he deflected. “But, yeah, I see better in the dark than even the dwarves.”
“Is that because of…?” Elsie trailed off, unsure if Yari’s pact with the Sky was a sensitive subject.
“Caelus? Yeah. I’m his eyes and ears down here, so I guess he wanted to make sure I could see as much as possible.”
“That’s awfully nice of him.”
“Not really. More like, practical. Caelus doesn’t really understand concepts like ‘nice’, or ‘good’, or ‘evil’. He’s so much bigger than us, his mind doesn’t work like that. I mean, Hel, he’s older than Aesir themselves!” Yari paused, then added sheepishly, “Not that I’m bragging. That sounded like I was bragging. I’m not exactly proud of the deal I made with him, but at the time, well… anyway, never mind. What’s done is done. It’s worked out so far. I just hope he doesn’t call on me to do something against my morals. You know me, I hate breaking promises.”
“You do always keep your word, don’t you?”
Yari flashed her a grin she could barely see in the gloom, and scrunched his nose. “Always.”
She impulsively reached out to touch him with her hand but drew back and put it behind her. This was going to be harder than she thought, but she grit her teeth. She was determined to try her best to give Yari what he wanted.
They walked in introspective silence for several more hours, and then it was time for lunch. Lunch in a dark place was very weird for Elsie. But, then, most things beyond her parents’ inn were weird for her.
“So why is it not wet in here with all the rain we had yesterday?” she asked the group, as they circled around and broke out rations.
Krunch didn’t hesitate a breath before going into full-blown dwarven teaching mode about how the designers of the tunnel put a rise in the middle of it, so the water would drain out, not in. He then talked about how to tell, even with that gradual rise, if the tunnel was going up or down.
The others faded off into their own thoughts while he taught Elsie what every dwarf knew by instinct. When he was complete, she thought she had the gist of it; at least stand a chance if ever in a tunnel by herself.
Super important stuff, Yari thought sarcastically at her. Did you take notes?
Shoosh, you! She chastised. As a matter of fact, I did!
The rest of the day walking in the tunnel went by uneventfully. When they left it after many hours of walking, the only way she could tell was by the difference in sound from their footfalls. It was pitch dark; clouds filled the sky, and the moon was not yet out. At least it had stopped raining long enough ago that the ground had begun to dry.
Everyone moved about setting up camp, each knowing their respective jobs by rote. Franziska, Clarice riding shotgun on her shoulder, told the group, “I’ll put up the hut in this area,” as she began scanning for a nice level spot to cast her protective barrier ritual.
Elsie giggled to herself. In the dim light, it looked like Franziska had two heads, like the Ettin that Yari had told her about. The thought of that made her giggle even more.
“That’ll keep the rain out if it starts up again, right?” Zen asked, ignoring Elsie’s private amusement.
“We’ll be warm and dry inside, no matter the weather” Franziska assured him.
Krunch watched the darkness for any danger that might try to sneak up on them. “Mighty late,” he said, “an’ this is where we got attacked by those wolves that one year. I’m thinkin’ it don’t matter ‘bout rain; we should have the hut regardless.” After sounds of general consensus, he added, “And, maybe just do jerky tonight. Don’ wanna attract any attention with a campfire.” That seemed perfectly reasonable to folks, too, so Franziska started rummaging for her ritual book.
Franziska glanced up to notice Rissa inspecting the ground a short distance away. Deciding on a particular spot, the young bard pointed and spoke, “Hey, you should put the hut right over here.” Franziska scowled at Rissa’s bossiness.
“It seems a little less rocky,” Rissa explained. To enhance her position, she patted the braided stalactite hanging at her side in its new leather scabbard. “I know rocks, after all.”
With resignation, Franziska sat down where Rissa suggested. “Everybody gather round within ten feet of me,” she told them. “If you are farther away than that, you won’t be able to get in the hut.” When everyone was assembled, the wizard began quietly reading the incantations from her book.
Rissa enlisted Sardi to brush away the few sticks and stones in the spell’s radius. He then unfolded a large tarp for everyone to lie on. Rissa had carefully identified the exact spot within the spell’s diameter that she deemed to be the softest ground and plopped her bedroll there. Last time they camped, the others had to endure her complaints that she could feel every pebble, keeping her awake. So this time, the others knew better than to question her claiming the choice real estate; a grumpy Rissa was a No-fun Rissa, so they let her be.
While they waited for the ritual to be completed, Zen approached Elsie and quietly asked, “What was so funny a moment ago?”
She blushed but not wanting to lie to Zen she responded in a whisper, “In the shadows made by the torch, it looked like Franziska had two heads because of Clarice on her shoulder. You know, like that Ettin you all described the other night that you met in Elfheim.”
Zen remembered what it had looked like only moments ago and smiled at how right Elsie had been. Hopefully, he thought, such innocence would not be spoiled by what was to come for them.
As Franziska finished her chant, the cool wind abated and the interior of the domed shelter quickly became a comfortable temperature. Wolf and Inuki left the magical hut and started gathering firewood, eliciting raised eyebrows from Sardi and Yari, since everyone had just agreed fifteen minutes ago there would be no fire tonight.
“Should be okay to have a warm breakfast in the morning, right?” he answered their looks. “I got some eggs in Butterpond. Rissa, how about one of your famous quiches?”
Elsie, lacking something to do, followed Wolf’s lead and began helping gather kindling. “Rissa,” she said, “I didn’t know you could cook.”
Rissa smiled. “And I didn’t know you could fight, before you knocked my brother on his ass. Seems we’re both full of surprises. Yes, I can cook. Girl, you haven’t lived until you’ve had my quiche!”
“Aye, it’s not bad for frou-frou elven food,” Krunch added.
Aldhis joined Krunch as a guard for those scurrying around, setting up the site. She asked, “So I heard very little about that attack you all experienced. Did they ever find out who was behind it, and what they were after?”
“Yeah, that was before my time, too. I haven’t heard it either,” Zen said, holding up a bright lantern for those humans unfortunate enough not to have eyes that could see in the dark.
Krunch looked at Wolf, who stopped picking up wood for a moment. “Do ye want to tell it Wolf.”
Wolf looked at Inuki who gave a silent ok to what he was planning and then put down his load of twigs.
“We had camped in this spot on the way to the Golden Eagle keep. It was after supper and Quac, Rissa, Yari, Krunch and myself had all climbed into one wagon. Yari and Rissa’s cousin, Bran, had decided to sleep under the other wagon.
“There was no moon out when we were attacked by wolves. Not just any wolves, but winter wolves that had coal dust rubbed into their furs to make them darker. One of them jumped into our wagon.” At this Inuki jumped near Wolf and growled at him menacingly.
“Krunch grabbed the giant’s bone he had found in the Bone Hills and started swinging away while Yari fired off spells. I tried to punch the monster but missed … a lot” Wolf punched at Inuki who dodged with lightning speed to the side.
“Then the wolf came at me, and I tackled it out of the wagon to try to keep it sharp teeth away from the others” Wolf tackled Inuki and the two fell to the ground.
“While I held it immobile, Rissa sent the killing shot” Inuki rolled over and played dead.
Rissa turned toward Elsie with a grin and quipped, “Like I said; full of surprises.”
Wolf continued, “We won the fight with only a few people getting hurt. Yari’s father saw a shadow of a person in the lightning strikes from Krunch’s grandmother’s weapon. He gave chase but wasn’t able to catch them. We never found out who that was.”
Wolf patted Inuki, who spoke out loud, looking up, “Treat?” hoping that more than one of the group would have liked what he did well enough to reward him.
Wolf got out a piece of jerky and threw it to hound, “You deserve it, you did very good!”
Inuki looked around at the others with his tongue hanging out. But none seemed to understand he was hoping to get more out of the performance than just one treat.
Sensing the show was over, everyone applauded, save for Zen who was standing with his mouth wide open. “Did Inuki just say treat? Holy cow!” Zen thought again how life was changing quickly around him, for the boring existence he saw himself settling into years ago. He wondered how Kara and Sven had handled it after all of the adventures they went on, and made a note to ask them later.
Wolf just smiled at Zen’s surprise, “Yes, he can speak common, just chooses not to very often.”
Inuki got up, shook out his fur, looked at Wolf, and decided to go for more treats. Do it again? Want another treat! That was easy!
Help me get some wood and we can go practice away from camp and you can earn another treat, answered the dwarf.