A note on the text:
Occasionally Rusty writes letters home to an old friend, Una Granitepalm. He finds filling a journal with such letters a small comfort, although he understands they will never be delivered; as in Elianor the address is an unknown corner of the world.
My dearest Una,
Nights like tonight make me wonder whether Bilth and I should have ever left our home on the mountain. A hole in my heart grows every week we are away, and though I would never tell the group this, I often wonder whether or not a lifelong commitment is worth leaving everything we knew behind. The world for perfect flavor, I suppose.
We are camped in a hollow on an altogether different mountain than yours, worlds away from any Rubyknuckles or Granitepalms. The sky is clear, though a chill passes through every so often that reminds us a storm is approaching. I’m not entirely sure that storm isn’t the wizard’s doing. I know, I mention him often, but today I saw him unleash an almost unspeakable amount of power and I worry my mistrust of him almost wanes on the edge of fear – for my brother and myself especially.
After we found the satchel of marbles we intended on setting off to return each to their respective basins, but Ouinnie seemed in poor spirits. I’m not entirely sure she’s unhappy with us as companions specifically (go figure, turns out the bear is a girl), but instead missing acting as the wild beast she is inside. My younger brother, mad as always, decided to hold the monster by its head and commit to a ‘bonding session’, as he calls it. And the rest of us were ready for the thing to kill him, too, but they must see something in one another as the creature’s demeanor changed, and one might even venture to claim it ‘listens’ to him now, though I get ahead of myself.
The wizard got a ‘strong feeling’ we forgot to check a very specific drawer upstairs, so we made our way back to the servant quarters and he found himself a handful of magical candles. He claims they glow different colors, and that he can make them float.
I feel as though I spent most of the day jumping and swimming, though don’t get the idea that it’s been anything like jumping from the stone ledge near our swimming hole. I’ve fallen into a rushing river twice, saved each time by my younger brother and his bear. When trying to jump a pit to grab corn I’ve been drying for the group, the wizard plunked the wind marble in the basin and stopped me half way across, dropping me to the floor. He took to calling himself, ‘Nurak, the great windbag’, and I agree with part of the name. On my return jump he used the marble again, and caused Ouinnie’s face to look as if her gaping jaws were ready to catch me, roaring for a snack. I’m not sure if I’m grateful that wasn’t the case still, as I flew into the wall, and near broke my nose.
Deeper in the halls I had a chance to join in the jests myself – we came to a corner and heard a faint swish, swish, and suspected danger. Perhaps more wasps, or worse, another Ouinnie. Positively quivering in fear the group sent me forth, to sneak, and so I went. I poked my head around the corner and you wouldn’t believe it – the noise came from a broom, sweeping all on its own! Swish, swish, it continued, so I motioned to the group to stay still: don’t move! And I pounced around the corner to grapple with the broom, making noises of a scuffle. I smiled at the looks I expected on their faces when a broom pops around the corner, but little did I know! At the sound of the scuffle Bilth had knocked an arrow, and at the sight of movement, the loudening swish swish, he let loose and nailed the broom handle straight through my hand. Oh, the agony! I screamed like a child, my good chopping hand! How will I slice the same, I wonder. I’ve still the hole to prove it, and I’ll have to show you if I ever leave Elainor.
I struggle to find the words to explain the next chapter of our story. I beg you not to worry yourself too much, though it does involve a lot of risk by all. Once returning the marbles to their basin, the rushing river I had fallen into numerous times froze at its source, revealing stairs to a stone room with a bridge over water, basin, and a sealed door. The floor all around the basin was bloodied (Bilth had trouble not vomiting), and a faint glow came from the water’s bottom.
We decided I should swim to the bottom to see what we could find, as the wizard deemed the fish ring Neirah gave me to be one that could increase my swimming speed. As I reached the bottom, some hundred feet down, I heard a noise so terrifying and unexplainable I have yet to forget it. A deep, long rumble from the floor underneath me, as though some forlorn beast moaned in anger at my presence. As I had a floor under me I followed the passage I found cut in the stone, and saw I could swim up had I more air. In my fear, I had neglected my air for the return trip and had to be heaved back by my companions. I drowned, but regained consciousness with Nurak at knife point by Bilth, over some dispute that I must have been the center of.
I told the tale of the terrible sound and received smiles. I’m not sure if they simply didn’t believe me or if it had just been another jape, but having come that close to death and being laughed at for it, I trusted none but my brother. I told him of the pool where I could resurface and said I needed to swim back, in our home tongue. Neirah, bless her kind strings, played me a harrowing song that filled me with the dwarven pride of old, and I made the swim with little effort at all. But again, little did I know! I surfaced in a room opposite our own and saw a man shriveled in the corner. As he saw me he shouted and struggled to a knee, then fired a magic bolt directly into my face. I awoke once again surrounded by my companions. I had drowned a second time, this time much closer to true death as that man had hit me hard.
The others came to a consensus to empty our water skins to have an extra breath of air, to brave the swim and confront the weakened man on the other side of the door. I remained behind with Ouinnie, listening to hear if anything transpired on the other side. To regain some strength I placed a corn cob in the basin hoping it would boil, and a THUNDEROUS boom shook the walls around me. My heart sank thinking of the fate of the others, especially my brother, so I ripped the corn from the basin to eat it raw, regain what strength I could to make the swim and help – but the water hit the hole in my hand and the door dissolved. It was activated by blood!
I pulled Ouinnie to the entrance and looked inside – I hadn’t seen before the wall of brilliant purple crystals gleaming behind the man. Something had destroyed the bridge and left it floating in the water, where Bilth was treading and firing arrows at the man, now standing tall and no longer shriveled.
The wizard climbed the steps that once were the far end of the bridge and yelled at the man in Elvish, but the man did not stop his attacks. More shining magic screamed through the air, hitting walls around us, and Neirah dodged them until she herself was at the purple stones. Slashing them, she seemed to feel a burst of power and turned to the man.
“We don’t want to hurt you!” Nurak yelled from the steps, planting his sword as a sign of laying down arms, but Neirah stepped forth, eyes blazing, and whispered something at the man that caused him to recoil in fear. He turned to flee, but was knocked down by Bilth with another arrow. The man struggled to his feet and gazed at Bilth. He lifted his hands and-
I must stop to allow myself again to remember I am sitting next to a campfire, not in that terrible room. For a moment, again, I was back in that water, hiding in the flotsam, doing everything within my power just to hold onto my life and pray to not be seen.
Ouinnie, seeing the man come to his feet, rocketed across the gap left by the bridge and bore his teeth at the man, skittering to a stop on his extended claws and roaring louder than I’ve thought her capable – enraged at him for even attempting to hurt one of us, one of her own. I suppose Bilth’s ‘bonding’ actually worked, as Ouinnie had fury in her stance.
The man’s gaze left my brother and landed on Ouinnie, then with a shout the lightening of a hundred storms blasted from his hands into her side. And through the crackle and flash, the smell of burnt hair, worse of all, Nurak atop the steps spread his arms and commanded:
The man slid to the floor, as coated in grease, then erupted into the brightest, hottest, tallest flame. We all felt the percussion of the ignition as flames licked the cieling of the cavern, ripples ran through the water, and the old man’s screams echoed and echoed and slowly left the room. Yet they still live, as they remain in my ears now. None was left but a small pile of ash and bones, and a lump of melted gold.
We have yet to speak of the torrent the wizard unleashed on the man. We all collected our things, chopped crystals to gain back our and Ouinnie’s strength, and set capt at the mountain’s entrance. I only hope to never see that type of power again.
The popped corn should nearly be done now, and I intend on sparing some salt for flavor. The group needs it.
Thinking of and missing the quiet mountain pines and mines,