Excerpt: Through the Forests of Calithwain
The sun sank behind the distant mountains to the West, turning the clouds a rosy pink. In front of a far closer set of mountains stood Janrod, Taya, Andrea, and an uneasy Dorfin. Andrea examined the side of the slope, but could only see rock. She glanced at Dorfin, confused. “Is this really the entrance to the caverns?” she asked.
Dorfin grinned. “That’s why no one has ever attacked our people. Nobody has ever been able to find us. People look and look, but we’re invisible. You three are the first non-dwarves to have ever been allowed to enter these halls.” Dorfin was silent for a moment as his words lingered on the air. He stared at his boots and his smile vanished.
Taya the dryad laid a supportive hand on his shoulder. “You must do what you think is right.”
He nodded. “I know,” the dwarf said. “What my people are doing is wrong. I must correct their mistakes before lives are lost.” He stepped forwards, and tapped a small knob of rock. A cool, dark tunnel materialized in front of the group. Janrod peered into the gloom for a moment, then started to enter. Dorfin stepped in front of him. “I should go first. I’ve been in here many times and I know these tunnels very well. Besides-” Janrod the elf nodded and held up a hand to stop Dorfin from starting a long explanation. He stepped back, allowing the dwarf to enter.
The caves were cool and musty. They appeared well kept, and had neither dust nor cobwebs, despite the stale cavern smell. At least the walls were visible, unlike that horrid cave the goons had shut them in. The group’s feet made strange tapping sounds on the ground, forcing Andrea to wince at the noise. She had become used to the silence of the forest. Andrea squinted in the dimness. She could barely see a foot in front of her through all of the thick, gloomy air. “This way,” she heard Dorfin saying. She did her best to follow his voice.
The group made their way through long, twisting passages, walking in single file. Andrea could see a soft, golden light glimmering ahead.
At the end of the tunnel, Dorfin stopped them. “You’d better let me go ahead. The head dwarves will be having their council meeting, and I want to try to find out what’s going on. Maybe this is all just a really big misunderstanding and we didn’t take your White Crystal after all. Maybe Sidaria just forgot where she left it, or something. Your people could be arming themselves for no reason.”
Janrod glared at the dwarf. “Sidaria does not start wars!”
“Neither does Theodred, yet both of them seem to support this one. What could’ve happened between them?”
“Nothing on Sidaria’s side-“
“If the dwarves took the White Crystal, maybe you could find out where it’s being kept.” Andrea said quickly.
“Good idea,” Taya said. Dorfin nodded, and headed into the council chamber. The trio listened silently as Dorfin approached the dwarf lord. Andrea hesitated, then peeked around the corner.
Before her, she saw an enormous cavern that sparkled much more brightly than the glittery backdrop Andrea’s class had constructed. Every inch of the walls and ceiling seemed encrusted with splendid, brilliant jewels, gleaming with light from the room’s many torches The room was a geologist’s dream, blanketed in sapphires, rubies, diamonds, amethysts, and many other beautiful jewels Andrea didn’t recognize. Andrea found herself blinking, temporarily blinded by the brilliant chamber.
In the center of the room stood a table, constructed from an enormous polished sapphire. It was so smooth on its surface that Andrea could see the dwarves who were seated around it reflected in it.
There were fourteen of them seated in tall chairs carved from gray stone. The fifteenth dwarf sat on a throne of pure gold. Behind his royal seat sat an enormous heap of gold that reached to the ceiling. It was mostly made up of huge nuggets of uncut brilliance, but some of it had been shaped into jewelry or small figurines. This resplendent pile was even more blinding than the room itself.
The figure sitting in front of it was less impressive. He resembled the other dwarves, but the king seemed old and withered. His long white beard dragged to the floor and he slouched in his chair, seeming swallowed up in it. The monarch was well attired, but his long purple robes seemed to hang on him like a child playing dress-up. His majestic golden crown seemed far too big for his head, and his shaky hand gripped his long golden scepter as if he was afraid to let go of it.
As Andrea watched, spellbound, the king turned to Dorfin as he crept forwards. “So, has the bee keeper actually deigned to come to our council?” he said in a rough, decaying voice.
Dorfin bowed to the ground. “Forgive me for troubling you, my lord, but I bear grave tidings. All of my bees and flowers are weakening and will soon perish. My butterflies can barely fly. The forest near my home is dying and turning brown, and worst of all-“
“Enough!” said the king in an trembling yet furious voice. “I do not want to hear another word about elves or bees or dandelions! When they are all gone, the world will be ours for the taking! We shall be rich beyond our wildest dreams!”
Dorfin looked as if the king had suddenly turned into a ten foot tall dragon with an appetite for dwarves. “Forgive me again, your majesty, but you appear to be much wealthier than the last time we spoke. You have changed your throne room quite a bit. Do you really need more riches? And even if you do, is it truly necessary to destroy other living things, simply to-“
“BE QUIET!” the dwarf king said. “I will do what I wish. And if I wish to destroy every life in existence, then that’s what I’ll do!” Andrea noticed that at this pronouncement most of the dwarf lords fidgeted as if their chairs had become more uncomfortable.
Dorfin, however, produced a placating smile and bowed. “I apologize for angering you, my lord, but I was rather surprised. I agree that all of these plants and animals and such things have no right to get between our treasure and us. I don’t understand how you can extinguish so many lives with just a command.”
The king rose, leaning on his golden staff for support. As he creaked forwards, Andrea could see Janrod doing the same, out of the corner of her eye. Taya quickly moved to stop him. “You must trust Dorfin,” she whispered. “We all believed him enough to let him guide us here; please wait just a bit longer. I think he has a plan.” Janrod hesitated, then murmured an agreement, and settled back to watch.
“Very well,” the dwarf king said. “You will see how we triumphed so easily and completely over our enemies.” He and his fourteen followers tramped down a carved stone hall with Dorfin following behind. Andrea and her friends watched for a moment, then slipped into the corridor behind them.
The dwarves trekked down twisting tunnels and passageways, with the trio of adventurers in silent pursuit. After only five minutes of walking, Andrea was sure that she would never be able to find her way out again without help. She just hoped that the White Crystal was at the end of the tunnel and that Sidaria could pull them out as Janrod had said. If not, they were going to be in a great deal of trouble.
Finally, the passageway opened into a large cavern. Andrea, Janrod, and Taya hid in the hallway as the dwarves, followed by Dorfin, crowded into the room. As she had a short time before, Andrea waited until she thought it would be safe, then peeked around the corner.
After the pale torchlight of the inner halls, the brilliant, white light that filled the room truly blinded Andrea’s eyes. The White Crystal glowed there in the middle of the room, blazing with a pure, cleansing light like a miniature sun. Andrea felt the rays of the White Crystal penetrating her, following through her as it flowed through Sidaria and all of her woodfolk. How could she have imagined the dwarves’ simple throne room bright or beautiful? Andrea could never dream of counting how many facets the White Crystal had; all she could see was a blur as it shimmered there, dominating the room. Andrea had never seen anything so perfect in her entire life.
“Well,” the dwarf king said, his voice dripping with smugness. “Now do you see how I have arranged for dwarves to be supreme in this land?”
Dorfin actually appeared to be speechless. After a few moments of staring spellbound at the White Crystal, he swallowed hard. “Yes, my lord, I think I see what you have done. However, I believe that I should inform you that there are some consequences to your bold act that you should become aware of.”
“Consequences! What do you mean?” the king said, his composure dropping within seconds.
“I believe that, upon due consideration, we should continue this privately.”
The king shook his head. “I don’t like these vague warnings. If you have something to say, then come out and say it.”
“There are spies in the palace,” Dorfin whispered. Behind her, Andrea could hear Janrod shifting. “I must tell you the rest separately,” Dorfin said. “It is too dangerous for your councilors to hear.”
The sovereign nodded, and motioned for the other dwarves to leave. Andrea, Janrod, and Taya had barely enough time to shrink back into a side passage before fourteen disgruntled dwarves stomped past them. “Now it’s just the two of them!” Taya whispered. “The four of us can easily handle the king.”
“Are you sure about that?” Janrod asked softly. “It may be three against two, and dwarves are good fighters.”
“I trust Dorfin,” Taya said. “Let’s watch what happens.”
“Are you sure that all of the other dwarves are completely out of hearing range?” Dorfin asked.
“Yes, of course. Now, what do you know?”
Dorfin sighed. “I’m truly sorry that I have to say this, since doing this betrays people who have put their trust in me.” Andrea caught her breath at Dorfin’s words. Would he truly tell the dwarf king that they were there?
“But I cannot allow the deaths of so many innocent beings!” Dorfin said. With those words, Dorfin grabbed his ruler by the shoulders and pressed his back up against the White Crystal, a hand covering his mouth. “It’s time!” he said. Andrea, Taya, and Janrod thundered out of the passageway, running towards the object of their search. As they came up towards it, however, both Janrod and Taya staggered then collapsed.
“What is it?” Andrea asked, trying not to panic. “What’s happened to them?” Dorfin turned his head to see what was wrong. In that moment, the dwarf king lashed out in an unbelievable burst of strength and shoved Dorfin away. “Guards, guards!” he shouted.
A troupe of guards thundered into the room and grabbed Andrea and Dorfin, prisoning their arms behind their backs. “What has happened?” Dorfin asked. “The dwarf king that I remember would never destroy all of the woodfolk. Nor would our lord Theodred. Why are you doing this? And why do you follow him?” he asked the guards.
The dwarf king smiled. “I was worried that something like this would happen, so I had my dwarves cast a protective spell. All of the creatures that are affected by the White Crystal’s absence cannot enter this room and stay awake. Now, carry these four off to the dungeons and lock them in the room I prepared for any of Sidaria’s people. I will deal with them after the woodfolk are gone and Sidaria can no longer send spies to trouble us. Now go!”
Ignoring Andrea’s and Dorfin’s struggles, the guards picked up Taya and Janrod, then dragged the four of them down the hallway. The guards forced them all into a small cave, then one pressed a panel beside the opening. An odd, greenish light covered the cave entrance, pulsing in a strange rhythm. It was the only source of light, since there were no torches here. Everyone inside the cave appeared sickly green under its light. Inside the cave, Janrod and Taya stirred and finally sat up. Andrea hurried towards them. “What is it?’ she asked, as her two friends shrank back from the field. Andrea moved towards it, squinting to see through to the other side.
“Stay back! It is…” Janrod struggled for the words to explain. “It blocks the White Crystal from touching us. If Taya or I come in contact with the barrier, we shall in all likelihood die. There is a chance that it could harm you or even Dorfin, although you don’t require the White Crystal to survive.”
“I thought the White Crystal wasn’t working,” Andrea said.
“Since Sidaria no longer has it, its energy weakens daily,” Taya said. “Yet a few days of power still remain in the White Crystal. Those fragments still sustain us, unless a field such as this one blocks them. I have heard of few capable of such hideous magic.”
“What can the king have been thinking!” Andrea turned at Dorfin’s voice to find him standing behind her, examining a section of the rock wall.
“You mean the way he’s trying to destroy everyone?” Andrea asked.
“No, not that. He ordered all of us locked in this cell. But he must have known, that is, any dwarf past his first years of school--"
“What is it?”
“There’s a secret passage in this wall.”
Andrea hurried over to him. “I don’t see anything. It looks just like the rest of the cave.”
“But it isn’t, don’t you see? Oh, of course, you haven’t had my training. Any dwarf, even one who lives above ground and gardens, always knows how to recognize the passages. See these speckles of gold here, and this round stone embedded in the side? They’re used only for the hinges. And there are many more signs too, but let’s sneak out of here before someone realizes! Come on.”
“It could be some kind of trap,” Taya said.
“And this place isn’t?” Janrod asked. “Anything is better than the deadly magic here.”
Dorfin pressed a few places on the door and it folded inwards into the rock. They all raced into the passage, which Dorfin closed carefully behind them.
The halls were as dim as the cave had been, with only a few shreds of phosphorescent lichen gleaming along the walls. Their footsteps echoed heavily along the narrow passage. Dorfin glanced about himself uneasily, allowing the others to take the lead. As they scrambled down the passageway, Dorfin continued to peer at the walls uneasily.
“Why is it so strange that the king ordered us locked in there?” Andrea asked, remembering Dorfin’s surprise at the secret exit. “Surely he doesn’t spend all his time inspecting the dungeons.”
Dorfin shook his head. “The dwarf kings have always possessed maps to all the passages no matter how significant. And he knows that every dwarf could recognize them. Why would he put us in there?”
“Well, it’s lucky for us that he did,” Janrod said. He paused in their headlong run in the tunnels as the group came to a fork in the path. “Which way?”
“I have no idea,” Dorfin said. “I have never been arrested before…until now,” he added, his face appearing to darken slightly in the faint light.
“Dorfin, you’re doing the right thing,” Taya said, as Janrod led them along the uphill path. “I don’t know why the dwarf king and Theodred are trying to kill us but we have to put a stop to it.”
Janrod suddenly froze in front of them. “What is it?” Andrea asked.
“Perhaps Theodred is not behind this,” Janrod said as he moved aside to let them see. Before them was a cell of bars that gleamed an odd, yellow-gray hue in the faint light of the caves. Through the bars, Andrea could see a shortish man lying asleep on a bed. He twisted and turned as if in the grip of some horrible nightmare. His face seemed youthful, but his dark hair was shot through with silver. Behind her, Dorfin sucked in his breath in horror. “It’s him!”
"We have to free him,” Dorfin said urgently. “My lord, my lord, wake up!” The man showed no signs of waking.
“This may not be wise,” Janrod said. “The fact that he is imprisoned does not prove that he is innocent of all that has happened.”
“But he is. You know Theodred, he would never steal the White Crystal from Sidaria! He's a member of the Seven.”
“You have said the same of your dwarf king.”
“Is there even a way to reach him?” Taya asked. “He sleeps as if under a spell and we have no way to break the bars.”
“An alloy of gold and steel,” Dorfin confirmed. “Impervious to almost anything. Not much besides dragon fire could melt these. But there!” He pointed to an enormous padlock set into the bars. “We have Andrea’s key.”
“The important thing is the White Crystal, not Theodred,” Janrod said. “The key will only aid us once.”
“If Sidaria’s brother is a prisoner, he can’t be in league with the dwarf king,” Andrea said. “And all of the orders seemed to come from him but no one spoke to him directly. We should see if he can help us. After all, we don’t even know where the White Crystal’s kept.”
“Andrea’s right,” Taya said.
Janrod finally nodded. Now that they all agreed, Andrea dug the gold key out of her pack, and turned it in the gigantic lock. The door set into the bars squealed in protest but finally opened. Leaving the now-useless key where it was, Andrea hurried into the room followed by her friends.
Dorfin knelt at once beside the bed. “Great lord of the earth? Your people need you desperately.”
“My lord Theodred?” Taya asked softly.
There was a pitcher of water on a small table by the bed. Dorfin took a few drops and sprinkled them on Theodred’s face. “Great lord, please!”
Theodred’s eyes finally opened. His unfocused stare glided away from Dorfin and Taya to seize Andrea in its penetrating gaze. “You are not of Calithwain,” he breathed, voice rough and unsteady.
“No,” Andrea managed. “I’m not. Do-- do you know what’s been happening here?”
Theodred nodded, carefully sitting up and waving away Dorfin’s unspoken offer of assistance. “The king has taken the White Crystal. Without Sidaria to control it, the woodfolk are dying and my sister with them. Its uncontrolled power left me overwhelmed and weak, easily falling prey to the dwarf king. He managed to imprison me with only a handful of petty guards.”
“But why would the White Crystal harm you?” Taya asked.
“Once separated from Sidaria, the White Crystal tried to latch onto me for power and guidance. But the White Crystal is not mine. I can no more control it or keep it from draining my power than one of you could stop an avalanche from burying you. Our time grows shorter ever hour.”
“What can we do?” Dorfin asked. “I’m just so relieved that you’re not behind this. I mean, I knew you couldn’t be, but there was so much evidence. I turned against my own people-“
Theodred touched his arm. “You must not feel so, Dorfin. It is your duty to fight for what is right, rather than imitating everyone around you, only because there are more of them. Without the White Crystal in Sidaria’s hands, far too many lives will be lost. This dwarf king is not the one I have known these many years. Do what you must to ensure the safety of everyone.”
“I can signal Sidaria when we have found the White Crystal,” Janrod said. “However, we must assume that the field still protects it. My lord, do you think that you could circumvent it?”
“What does the field do?” Theodred asked, eyes drifting closed once more. He sagged back against the bed’s thin pillows. Upon hearing how the field had overpowered Janrod and Taya, he nodded. “I may be able to give you some small protection. It is imperative that you bring the White Crystal to Sidaria as soon as possible. Once it is gone from here, I can try to set everything right.”
“You didn’t really give the dwarves permission to attack the elves, did you?” Andrea asked.
“No I did not.” He gave Andrea a weary smile as he slipped a fat copper ring from his finger and held it out to her. “Underground and forest magics cannot mix. But if you wear this on your finger, and keep close to your friends, this token should protect you all from the dwarf king’s enchantments. Be safe, all of you. Calithwain itself may rest in your hands.”
They made their way around the dwarves’ caverns by twisted routes that Theodred had described, until they were certain that no one followed them. Finally they reached the room housing the White Crystal. Andrea studied the door nervously. “It better not be locked. We used up that magical key.”
Dorfin tried the ornate knob. “It won’t budge. But when the king and I came here earlier, he had no key, not even a lockpick. Why won’t it open now?”
Taya scrutinized the door. “Do you see how it shimmers slightly? This is not ordinary stone. Andrea, perhaps you should try.”
“Me? If Dorfin can’t open it, how could I-- oh goodness, Theodred’s ring!” Andrea stretched out a tentative hand for the knob. There was no noise, no burst of sparks, but the knob turned easily in Andrea’s hand.
The four of them burst into the room. The White Crystal stood before them, pristine and beautiful as it had been the first time Andrea had seen it. “Remember, we all need to stay close,” Andrea said. “The ring should protect us.” They all walked together towards the White Crystal. Suddenly, Andrea heard a wordless cry of rage. She spun around, then gasped in shock.
As if by magic, the dwarf king stood behind them, blocking the entrance to the room.
“What!” Dorfin sad. “This is impossible. How could you have come here so quickly?”
“It would seem I still have some secrets,” the dwarf king said, eyes glowing with fury. “It’s time you told me all of yours. How can you two still be standing? And how did you escape?”
As he advanced on the group, Andrea had an odd moment of double vision. She could still see the room and the people around her. However, the dwarf king glowed with an odd, golden energy, while a reddish light blanketed Andrea and her friends, a soft flexible shield against the reddish glow permeating the room. Andrea risked a moment to glance back towards the White Crystal. It glowed with a green-white light so intense that she couldn’t stand to look directly at it. She hurriedly turned back to the dwarf king. As he came closer, she saw the reddish glow surrounding their group faltering against the onslaught of his golden magic. As he took another step closer, the shield around Andrea flickered and shrank. Before Andrea could do more than step backwards, Taya and Janrod slumped into unconsciousness.
The dwarf king smiled an ugly, feral grin. “Your turn, little human. You may not be an elf, but I think I have spells you won’t escape.” As he advanced towards her, Andrea saw the forgotten Dorfin sneaking up behind him. Andrea stood her ground, trying to keep the king in place for long enough for Dorfin to strike. Suddenly, something small and pointed flashed in Dorfin’s hand, and the dwarf king dropped like a stone.
The double vision of color and reality faded from Andrea’s eyes, until the room looked as it had before. Dorfin stood there, staring at the king with shame and discomfort battling over his face. Dorfin sensed Andrea’s eyes on him and blushed as he raised his eyes from the king to meet hers. He held up the small gardener’s trowel in his hand. “It seems I’m no warrior,” he said with a shrug, and glanced back towards the ground.
“Dorfin, are you kidding? You just saved all of us! Now we need to return this to Sidaria.”
“We don’t have time for Janrod to wake,” Dorfin said. “Guards are probably on the way, and he and Taya may sleep until they leave this place.
Andrea gave him a reassuring grin. “I know how to carry us all out of here safely.” I just hope that this works, she thought as she bent over Janrod. She found the small gem glittering on the chain around his neck, and slipped it off of him. She walked over and placed her hand against the White Crystal. With her other hand, she held the deep green gem up in the air. She could feel an icy mist swirling around them, and she sighed in relief. As she sagged against the White Crystal, everything around them started to fade away.