Reflections Flern-9 part 2 of 3

That night, halfway up the mountain, it became a warm but comfortable night with all the stars out in their glory. The moon came up full as well, and while the lovers loved, Wlvn knew that up on the plateau, the Were hunted under the wolf moon. Presently, they hunted in the guise of wolves and this being the second night of the moon, he knew the blood lust would be at its peak. They would reach the top of the pass in the afternoon, but Wlvn would make them camp off the plateau again, to avoid the third and final night of the wolf moon.

The next day they rode some, but often had to walk their horses up the mountainside. Thrud complained the whole way. Vinnu stayed unnaturally quiet. Bricklebrains made up for it by jabbering about the great life he had in Movan Mountain, and how lucky he was to be a dwarf instead of thick mud like the humans. No one but Kined, and sometimes Fritt really listened to the dwarf, but no one had to listen at all since he appeared to be speaking to himself. Wlvn only felt glad the dwarf seemed to have adjusted to being one of their companions.

Riah, like Vinnu, also stayed unnaturally quiet. When pressed, she confessed some trepidation about going up on the plateau of the Were. They were not known to be a friendly lot, not even to the little ones. “Mostly the spirits of the earth work there invisible and immaterial,” she said, though that was true in most places. “It just isn’t safe otherwise.”

Wlvn understood.

Shortly after noon, they came across a great stone wall made up of many slabs of stone that appeared to have been pushed up from below. They were rounded and weathered, but even Wlvn could not imagine a force that might have pushed them up so perfectly into a wall. He just wondered about that when they walked to the upside of the wall, and he heard a sound he never expected. The roar got followed by a stream of fire. The dragon landed where the wall stood between them. Then the big worm lifted its head over the top of the wall as if to spy on them. Wlvn immediately got the impression of someone’s spoiled pet. It did not do well in flight, like it got too fat.

Vinnu, Thrud and Fritt all screamed. Tiren and Kined appeared frozen in place. Gunder and Vilder tried to get them all moving, but no one seriously moved until the next stream of fire just missed frying Pinn, horse and all.

“This way!” Pinn shouted above the screams. Wlvn shouted something else. He knew that, like night creatures, dragons were an off-world phenomenon. The people who bred dragons, bred into them obedience to certain, simple words in their tongue. Wlvn found that tongue in the mind of Kartesh, his most recent life. He called out to the dragon and tried desperately to shout over the screams of the others. But then he knew, once the dragons got big and old, they did not necessarily respond to the words.

“No fire. Do no harm. No fire!” It was not clear if the dragon even heard him.

They started moving out of range along a rock face. The dragon slithered over the stone wall to follow. It could have taken to the air, but it preferred to slither up alongside them, and though the plateau sat just above, it did not look like they were going to make it. Another stream of fire cut off that direction temporarily. It seemed the dragon decided to play cat and mouse, and they were the mice.

Vinnu continued to scream. Wlvn continued to shout his words in the attempt to be heard above the din. It is a wonder that Riah heard a quiet voice call from a dark place in the rock face.

“In here. Hurry.”

As it happened, they were turned around at that point so Fritt appeared in the lead. Riah turned for the dark space and found a cave. Her horse barely fit, when she dismounted, but the cave got deep and ran back a long way. She imagined it might not be big enough for the dragon, though, and that mattered most. Tiren, Gunder, Thrud and Vinnu followed, and Vinnu temporarily stopped screaming. Pinn, Vilder and Kined came right behind, and the dragon realized it was losing its prey. It swung straight for them.

Fritt raised his voice above the others, now that the screaming abated. He rode quickly very close to the dragon’s mouth. He turned up toward the plateau, away from the others, and the dragon turned after him. It made a lunge at him, and barely missed as Fritt topped the rise and became lost to sight, the dragon literally hot on his trail.

Wlvn, the last in the cave, arrived just in time to hear Vinnu start screaming again. Their saviors turned out to be a troop of dark elves, what most people would call goblins. Wlvn stepped over and put his hand over Vinnu’s mouth before he handed her to Gunder and spoke.

“Goldenstone, can we get back to the surface from here without crossing the path of the dragon again?”

The goblin looked surprised at having his name known, but quickly recovered. “I thought you might like to go underground to the other side and not have to deal with the wolves above.”

“Yes, the wolf moon. But that is only for another night and then they will settle down again for a time.”

“But they remain Were,” Goldenstone argued.

“Listen, Goldenstone,” Bricklebrains stepped up. “These may be mud people, but they are all right, I tell you.”

“Bricklebrains.” The goblin knew the dwarf. “And I see you brought an underage, scrawny little elf with you.” Riah made a fist, but Wlvn caught it.

“She isn’t here,” one of the goblins spoke up from the cave entrance where he managed to get behind them.

“Maybe she is lost.”

“Or the dragon got her.

“Or maybe she is dead already.” The last suggestion became the one most of the dark elves appeared to agree with. The humans, of course, knew exactly who they were talking about.

“Oh bother.” Wlvn sighed before he waved his hand and said, “All of you are free from the enchantment of the Wicca,” and all of the goblins fainted. “And any trolls or goblins or others that might be down any of these passages or in any of the rooms, you are all free from the enchantment, even if you can’t hear my voice.”

“I don’t understand.” Vinnu removed Gunder’s hand from her mouth to express her uncertainty.

“These ones belong to the Lord, too,” Bricklebrains explained.

“All of the little ones,” Pinn remembered the village battle against the Jaccar. “All of the sprites of the air, water and fire as well as the earth.”

“Er, yes,” Riah agreed, though she was not sure she liked the idea of being referred to as an earth sprite.

“Be free,” Wlvn said again with a smile and show of his hand. He was kidding, but at once the earth began to tremble. Above ground, that could be frightening. Underground it became terrifying. Fortunately, it did not last long as a woman as tall as the tunnel appeared. She came dressed in something like silk, and it gave her demeanor a true stately appearance, but her skin looked gray, and her eyes and face looked like marble, and that made her look more like a moving statue.

“I was afraid for you, but I see you have handled things well enough.”

“And you are?” Wlvn got curious enough to speak. The others dared not speak in this great lady’s presence.

The lady squinted. “The young woman did not tell you?”

Wlvn sighed and guessed. “Flern and I are not in contact at the moment.”

“Oh, I see.” The lady said, but what she actually saw would be a matter for later debate. “I am Carpasis. I am the oread of these mountains. Oakvein and Firblog both said you were coming. And I had a reception planned, but at the last minute I got word that my sister Sylvan needed me. She lives on the other side of the plateau.”

“May I ask how this word was delivered?”

“Yes, one of the rats that burrow through these caves. But when I got there, I found she did not need me. And when I returned, I found the dragon you gave me awake and hungry. It is the strangest thing. I had thought the dragon would sleep another year at least.”

“Pardon.” Kined found the courage to speak before Wlvn could say, “The dragon I gave you?” Kined rightly worried. “My friend Fritt drew the dragon away so we could make it safely to this cave. Is there any way to see if he is all right?”

“I can speak to the Were,” Carpasis answered. “But I would not hold out hope if he was being chased by my dragon. I am sorry your reception turned less than pleasant.”

“Quite all right.” Wlvn spoke again. “Now we have these good dark elves to guide us through the mountain. Can we convey your greetings to your sister when we arrive on the other side?”

The oread smiled. “You are very like her. She thought to thank me for my assistance. That was most unexpected and most appreciated. I will say, the goddess is waiting for your arrival. Safe journey.” She vanished even as the goblins started to get up.

“Poor Fritt,” Vinnu said, with a look up into Gunder’s face. He nodded.

“Poor us,” Thrud said with a look around and up at the roof of the cave. “Can we get out of here now?”

“No.” Wlvn said. “How long to the other side?”

Goldenstone bowed. “Lord, it should only be two days to the other side by our reckoning.”

“Underground elf ways,” Wlvn said. “But we better keep to the troll roads to make sure there is enough room for the horses.” Goldenstone bowed again.

“Two days!” Thrud erupted and buried her face in Tiren’s shoulder.

“Claustrophobic,” Wlvn concluded though no one there knew the word. “But I wouldn’t worry. I don’t expect the trolls will exact much of a price for the troll road.” He giggled at his own bad joke, well used as it was, though again no one knew what he was talking about.

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