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This one was interesting. I had quite a few ways I was going to go with this, and I couldn't decide which ones to use to get where I wanted to go. So I debated and threw around ideas, but nothing really fit. Then, Hotburr took matters into his own hands and allowed me to use all of them! Isn't he a smart little wolfie? :D


“Ekuar?” Shenshen looked at the new elf curiously. She wasn’t sure what to make of him. He was obviously not useless, as he had just sealed their ”˜room’ shut without much effort, but he was”¦ less than whole. She took a step foreword, but then hesitated. “How--?”

Rayek took the aged elf’s hand and helped him sit as Ekuar caused the rock floor to mold into a crude seat. Then the darker elf turned back to the other two. “I found him, while searching for food.” He explained, “The trolls spotted me and I fled, and happened to stumble upon a small hole, where he was.”

Shenshen raised an eyebrow at the explanation. There was far too little pride in his statement. He wasn’t bragging. It was odd. Something in him had changed in that short time, and she wasn’t sure what it was.

“They were holding him captive.” Rayek continued. “I freed him.”

“Eh, yes.” Ekuar gave a weak smile. “Brownskin saved me. But I see there is another pretty brownskin here.” He reached out and played with a lock of her hair. It seemed to Shenshen that his eyes twinkled whenever he spoke, but there was a shadow that was hiding just behind. He’d had it rough, being a captive of the trolls, but whatever had happened, he lived with love and hope now. She giggled at his compliment and replied, “I’m Shenshen. And this is Pike”¦ and Hotburr.”

He greeted all of them, even attempting to pet the wolf, who allowed him with a grunt. Rayek soon began to unpack what he’d had in his satchel, and offered his cloak to Ekuar to replace his rags. Shenshen refused to have Ekuar just wear a cloak, and quickly made herself feel useful by cutting the cloth into something more usable. Pike soon dug into the food and water, making sure everyone got something, though Rayek seemed to disagree with sharing ”˜their’ provisions with the wolf. While the others were busy, Ekuar shaped a holder for the torch in the wall, and then some very small vents so the place wouldn’t fill up with smoke.

When the four had settled and began to eat, Ekuar told his story of how he came to be a slave of the trolls. His speech was airy and disjointed, but the point came through. Rayek only seemed concerned, perhaps a bit annoyed, while Shenshen was filled with pity. Pike, however, became furious. “To take someone’s life as their own like that”¦ it’s worse than death!” But he didn’t seem to get more riled up than that. His anger was soon quelled by a strange drink that Rayek had snatched along with the rest.

Pike noticed immediately that it wasn’t the normal drink, and certainly wasn’t water. He sniffed it, and then, sensing that the smell was familiar, took a big gulp. After a moment, his anger at the trolls melted away to drunken merriment. “Dreamberries! This is made from dreamberries!”

Shenshen soon joined the fun, and began to dance, knowing that for the moment, they were safe. Rayek even seemed to lighten up a little. The dancing and laughter and stories lasted until the torch burnt itself out and they collapsed from exhaustion.

Rayek and Ekuar had been awake for some time when Shenshen and Pike woke up. The two magic-users had shaped some adjoining rooms to their hiding space, and added torches here and there. Shenshen thought it was ”˜homey,’ but Pike felt it was too closed-in. “We’re not staying here forever, right?” He asked, though no one seemed too interested in what he said. “We still have to be back at the Sun Village in one turn of the seasons.”

Shenshen giggled. “We have plenty of time.” She assured him. “Rayek wants to train here. Ekuar says he can teach him to use his magic better, and they think this is a good training ground.”

“But the whole place smells of trolls”¦” he grumbled, but he was ignored.

They spent the next few days doing much the same as they had the day before; they scavenged for food, usually Rayek floating some their way or Pike using his Wolfrider swiftness. Ekuar instructed Rayek in the use of his powers, and his strength increased dramatically, not to mention his disposition became more bearable as he continued to succeed. Pike attempted to teach Shenshen in the ways of the sword, but both were awkward and soon he gave up and stole a spear from the trolls’ store holes full of elf-sized weapons, obviously stockpiled for trading with the Wolfriders. The teaching become much easier after that, and Shenshen was a quick learner.

Hotburr was the least happy, and constantly grumbled at being holed up in the cave-home. After about an eight of days, the wolf became fed up and escaped their hiding place and began to run down the tunnels.

“Stupid animal!” Rayek exclaimed. “He’ll get killed and give us away!”

Pike growled at the hunter. “If he wasn’t holed up here all day and night, he wouldn’t have escaped! He needs to stretch his legs.”

“We’d better follow him.” Shenshen led the way and all but Ekuar followed the wolf’s trail.

The tunnels were fairly empty and soon Rayek suggested they go back, that chasing a wolf was a waste of time. Soon after, there was a loud howl echoing through the caves and then a yelp. Pike rushed into action immediately and the two others followed close behind.

The tunnel opened up to King Greymung’s throne room, where three guards each had a looped rope around Hotburr’s neck, holding him still while he struggled. “Let him go!” Pike jumped down the small ledge, despite Shenshen’s protests, and readied his spear, but the troll king just laughed.

“We have you now! Why would we let him go?” He cackled gleefully as he pointed back at the other two elves. A group of trolls blocked the exits behind them. Rayek began fighting, but the kind didn’t seem to care. “I think the wolf might taste nice with some red fungus, don’t you?”

“You cowardly human!” He moved in to attack Greymung, but more guards got in his way. He ducked under them and rolled to the side, cursing himself for getting them into this mess. When he was back on his feet, he looked around frantically. Rayek and Shensehn were holding their own, but it was a losing fight against so many trolls. He wished so hard that they could receive sendings, but whatever he did, it would have to be on his own.

Curse it! He yelled at himself, I’ve never been very good at thinking up plans. But after a moment, he saw a perfect opening. He dashed over and under attacking trolls, to the throne and found there a screaming female troll who looked perfect. She was covered in gold and trinkets from head to foot, and seemed to favor the troll king over anyone. He leveled his spear at her neck and called to the king. “Stop or I’ll kill her!”

The room hushed. The trolls fighting the two Sun Villagers were still struggling, but it seemed the rest of them were now paying attention to Pike. Had his gamble worked? He wasn’t sure how or whether trolls lifemated, but if this was his lifemate, he’d listen.

The king frowned and put his hand to his mouth in what looked like annoyed thought while the female troll sobbed and wailed not to let the ugly elf kill her. Then, after a moment, “I have more females. I don’t need that one.”

The female screamed and Pike’s insides fell. He didn’t want to actually kill the troll, and he didn’t have any more ideas. Was the king just calling his bluff or did he really not care? He was about ready to give up on the planning and just fight until they were free or they died, when Greymung made a gurgling sound. Pike watched as the king’s eyes went wide and then rolled back into his head while his mouth dribbled blood. This time, all the trolls fell silent and watched the curious incident.

From behind the throne, a lone troll pulled a spear from the back of the king’s neck and growled, “There elf! I’ve killed him. That makes me king now. Let Oddbit go and I’ll let all you elves leave peacefully.”

Pike could hardly believe his senses. “Picky! I didn’t know you cared!” He retracted his weapon and the female ran to the new king, spouting compliments about how heroic he was.

“Go elf. And take your friends with you.” The troll continued. “We will give you one water bag, and one basket of food if you promise to leave these tunnels forever.”

Pike allowed himself a grin. “Deal.”

The three elves, after much grumbling from Rayek, headed back to their cave-home and got ready to leave the troll caverns. True to his word, Picknose gave them the promised food and water, and gave them one choice. “You leave here either back the way you came, through the Tunnel of Golden Light, or you leave the other way, back to your forest.”

There was much debate over the answer to that. Shenshen insisted that they should go back through the desert and back home to the Sun Village while all the time, Rayek refused to ever go back. Ekuar was happy with whatever decision as long as they left the caverns, and Pike, unfortunately was undecided. Shenshen finally came to him to ask him what he thought. He didn’t like making decisions, and he certainly didn’t want to be anything like a chief here. He just leaned on his spear and said, “One water bag won’t get us through the desert, but we made it the first time like that. I don’t know what will be on the other side. Our forest burnt down; there may be nothing left.” His eyes started to water at the thought of it, but he continued. “I follow you, whatever decision you make.”

Shenshen thought this over. Rayek and Ekuar were getting the food together and wrapping it up in what extra cloth they had and adding it to what they had stolen from before. Then she looked back at Pike. “I think we’ll have a better chance going to your forest, don’t you? Maybe it’s not as bad as you thought and there may be food.”

Pike only nodded.

The four elves were led down the familiar tunnels to a familiar door, and the trolls slowly opened it, revealing a dim light. Rayek and Ekuar were the first out, followed by Hotburr and Shenshen, and Pike last. Shenshen was the first to stop and stare at the desolate landscape. The ground was covered in hot ash and tree trunks jutted out of the cinders, still charred and smoking. The sky was hazy and grey and almost too thick to bear.

“Oh, High Ones”¦” Pike fell to his knees and Hotburr let out a long and mournful howl as the door to the troll caverns closed behind them.