“Centaurs?” I asked and the horn blasted again.
“We do not have time for talk! We must get ready to fight!” Firbrawn snapped. “Take the slaves back to the house, Valtrak, then join us at the armory!”
“Yes sir,” Valtrak said.
That said, Firbrawn hurried away. I glanced upward, wondering if this was the chance I had been praying for. If it was, how were we to find the scroll, if this was even the place it was hidden. My worries must have shown on my face because Valtrak touched my arm. He was looking up at me with his sharp, surprisingly knowing eyes.
“What troubles you?”
“Do you recall the scrolls I told you about?” I asked hesitantly.
“Yes. It sounds like the parchment with the strange story in it that we keep in a stone shrine by the sea,” Valtrak said.
I stared at him for a moment. “You mean it is here?” I asked excitedly.
“Not here in the tunnels, but yes. It is down the main southern passage near the gem cutters workspace.”
I looked at Elthinor and Nolan. “How are we going to get there? That’s clear across the city!”
“Not to mention we would have to get to the tunnel to the surface after that!” Elthinor said.
“You will not get out of the city,” Valtrak said, reminding us that he was a Dwarf and probably against our escape.
I had a sinking feeling in my stomach and I lowered my head. “Great. We are going to be stuck here forever.”
“You will not get out of the city,” Valtrak repeated slowly. “Without a Dwarf showing you the way.”
Hope welled up within me. “Would you do that for us?”
“No. Not for them,” the Dwarf replied. “For you. I owe you. You kept me from going to the coal mine with your hard work. The least I can do is help you.”
“Oh thank you! Thank you!” I cried out, embracing the short fellow and kissing his forehead.
He struggled out of my grip but could not hide the pleased look on his face. He gestured for us to follow quietly, so we did. He led us through the city, acting as if he was supposed to be doing what he was doing. Nobody seemed to notice us as we trailed him; everybody was too busy running around and a few Dwarves were barking orders. We arrived at a room and our escort tried to open the door. He grunted in frustration when it did not open.
“This must be the only door in the entire city they keep locked,” he growled, kicking it in frustration.
“May I try something?” Nolan asked, stepping forward.
“If you can get it open, go for it. I shall be back soon. Move swiftly and do not let anybody see you without me!”
Valtrak hurried away and disappeared into the crowd of frantic Dwarves. The horn sounded out again and made me flinch; it was much louder inside the city. Nolan rolled up his sleeves and knelt down. He pulled a small pouch out of a hidden pocket inside of his shirt and drew out two thin needle-like objects. He put them in the lock and began moving them around. I was confused as to what he was doing until I heard a click and realized he had just unlocked the door without the key.
“Where did you learn to do that?” I asked as he opened the door.
“I am an orphan. I learned how to survive,” Nolan said as he stood. “I…had to do a little stealing.”
I was not too surprised at that news, but I was a little sad. I did not like to think of Nolan as a thief, but that is what he had just admitted to. I shook the thought from my head and we walked into the room. To my delight, our weapons and backpacks were spread around the room. We quickly gathered up our things. I sighed as the familiar feeling of my bow and quiver settled across my back. It felt nice to have them back in place. From the look on Elthinor’s face, he was relieved to have his sword back. Nolan had no weapons, so he just slung his pack on his back and watched us with a strange look in his eyes.
“Good, you go the door open,” a voice said behind us.
We spun around to see Valtrak standing in the doorway, this time with a pack on his back. His violet eyes were shining, betraying his excitement at what was going on. He gestured for us to follow him again, so we did. This time we ran through the city. By this point, it was nearly deserted. Valtrak led us to the eastern tunnel and we started up the slope. It was steeper and longer than I remembered, I thought as we trudged upward. A soft noise came to my ears after several minutes, and became steadily louder as we ascended.
When the ground began to become more level and we saw light, Valtrak held up his hand and we stopped. The daylight hurt my eyes and the noise had become a roar. It took me a moment to realize that it was the sound of battle. The Dwarves and Centaurs were fighting!
“Run!” Valtrak suddenly commanded and we surged forward into the blinding daylight.
I was pulled down suddenly and felt the rough scratch of branches and the softer touch of leaves on my face. My eyes, which had been so accustomed to the dim lighting of the glowing crystals, slowly adjusted to the sunlight. When I could see, I looked beside me to see Elthinor blinking back at me.
“Can you see now?” he asked in a low voice. I nodded and he smiled. “Good.”
“Be quiet. The horsemen might hear you!” Valtrak hissed, his voice barely audible over the fray.
“We have to get out of here,” I said quietly.
Valtrak crawled on his belly through the bushes and we managed to get behind a couple trees that had grown together. I peeked out and gasped at what I saw. Centaurs swarmed around the forest, lashing out at the Dwarves. There was such a height difference that I laughed. At least I did until a group of Dwarves, brandishing axes, hacked down a Centaur. The squeal of agony from the Centaur had the laughter turn to a whimper. My bottom lip trembled as bile rose in my throat at the sight of the blood on the blades of the axes. I saw them raise the weapons again, even though the Centaur was down, and I ducked behind the tree again, covering my ears and rocking. Even so, I could hear the dying scream of the poor horseman. Elthinor shook me and I looked at him, sadness and disgust in my face.
“They killed him. They cut his legs off and killed him!” I moaned, hot tears streaking down my face.
“Who? What?” Elthinor asked. I just shook my head, unable to repeat what I had just seen.
“You cry over monsters?” Valtrak asked, touching my cheek and catching a tear. “Why?”
“One of our friends is a Centaur,” Elthinor explained.
Nolan suddenly cried out and I pulled my bow and knocked an arrow immediately. My eyes widened and I relaxed the string of my bow as I stared up at the Centaur who was standing above me. A black haired Centaur stood there, and he was taller than Gabrithon. There was a look of fire in his blue eyes, eyes that reminded me of Gabrithon. I swallowed hard as he raised his sword and I let out a scream, covering my head with my arms. A familiar whinny sounded out and the taller Centaur went over. I looked at our savior and gave a laugh of relief.
“Gabrithon!” Elthinor laughed as Valtrak pulled an axe that had been strapped to his back.
“Stay back, horseman!”
Gabrithon stared at Valtrak with his mouth open for a moment then covered his face with his hand. “You made friends with a stone man, didn’t you?” he asked dryly.
“Yes, this is Valtrak. Valtrak, this is Gabrithon, our friend,” I said, introducing them and ignoring the raging battle.
“So I cannot kill him?” Gabrithon asked, pulling out a sword.
“No,” I said with a smile. “Nice sword though. Where and when did you get it?”
“I shall explain later. I promise. Now-”
“Where is Ember?” I suddenly asked, looking around.
“Ember? I thought he was with you,” Gabrithon replied, his brows furrowing.
“No,” I said, panic rising. “Where is he?!”
“I do not know, Fily! We must get out of here before my father notices I am with you!”
“We might have a problem with that,” Nolan said softly, gesturing vaguely.
“Oh great,” I muttered as I saw Firbrawn approaching us with a group of vicious looking Dwarves; the Centaurs were getting farther and farther away.
I knew for a fact that Valtrak would get in big trouble if Firbrawn thought that he had helped us escape. He had, but Firbrawn did not need to know that. There was only one option left if I wanted to make sure Valtrak did not get in trouble. I pulled my knife, grabbed the red-brown Dwarf and placed the blade under his beard and against his throat. I felt him swallow and his eyes widened. His breathing became shallow and he seemed genuinely afraid. That was good. It would help us escape.
“Come any closer and I will kill him,” I growled icily.
Firbrawn stopped and gestured for the other Dwarves to do the same. He looked angry, but there was a tinge of fear in his eyes.
“I fed you and gave you rooms in my home, and you repay me by teaming up with the horsemen and kidnapping my nephew.”
I made myself laugh. “Do you really think we were content being slaves? We were planning to escape anyways, Centaur attack or no. This just gave us the opportunity. Your nephew put up quite the fight, but he was no match for us. Now, let us go. Once we are safely away, I will release him and he can come back. This I swear.”
Firbrawn looked indecisive and I twitched my hand. He flinched at Valtrak’s gasp and finally relented.
“Fine, fine,” he answered, dropping his weapon. “Just don’t harm him.”
I began backing up, forcing Valtrak to follow. The others did so by their own will. When the Dwarves had been out of view for a good five minutes, I relaxed and withdrew the knife from the Dwarf’s throat. His hand immediately flew to his neck and he turned and stared at me with wide, disbelieving eyes.
“You-you were going to kill me?” he demanded, his voice higher than normal.
“No,” I replied simply, sheathing my knife.
“B-but you had a knife against my throat!”
“I think, if I understand this right, she was helping you,” Nolan said, his voice hesitant.
“How is threatening me helpful?!”
“If she had not threatened you, your uncle would know that you helped us escape and you would have been in trouble. By threatening you, she made it look as if we had kidnapped you and forced you to do as we had said, so you will not be held accountable for it when you go back,” Nolan explained, glancing at me for confirmation of his theory. I smiled and nodded, and Nolan stood a little taller.
Valtrak’s eyes were guarded, just like they had been before we had hit the crystal pocket. I felt sad that I had broken his trust when it had so recently been given to me. I looked away from those intense violet eyes.
“I am sorry, my friend,” I sighed. “You may go back to Crystalmoor.”
He stared at me for so long that I wondered if he had heard me. To my surprise, the Dwarf shook his head.
“What?” Nolan asked, his eyes wide.
“No. I will not go back.”
“Why not?” the Human boy demanded; for some reason he sounded as if he was in total disbelief.
“Because I do not want to spend the rest of my life stuck in a mine. That might have been my uncle’s dream, but it is not mine. You have told me of your adventures, of the battles you have fought and the enemies you have vanquished. It is not gem cutting, but it is not mining. I would enjoy myself much more with you than back home.”
“I did not know stone men had feelings,” Gabrithon muttered. I looked at him sternly and he rolled his eyes, but smiled. “Fine. I shall try to be nice to him.”
Valtrak glanced from Gabrithon to me several times. His gaze finally settled on me. I stared back at him until he raised his eyebrows.
“I can see why our king was so kind to you. You are a very unique person.”
That was all he said on the matter, and though I asked him several times to elaborate, he refused. I finally gave up and glanced up at Gabrithon. He shrugged, looking amused, before turning and walking west, the direction we had been heading before we had been enslaved.
I hurried over to him, walking beside him. “You do know you owe us an explanation,” I stated calmly.
“When I am sure my father cannot reach us, I will explain,” he promised. “But for now, we need to find a place to spend the winter. It is coming on fast.”
I suddenly noticed how chilly it was and shivered in the cold air. Elthinor, who seemed to be prepared for everything, pulled out a jacket from his pack and offered it to me. I refused it and he put it back, not looking happy.
I looked back and saw Valtrak was trailing behind us. I stopped, and he stopped. I gestured for him to come and walk with us, but he looked at Gabrithon with distaste and shook his head. I sighed; this was going to be a fun walk, I thought sarcastically to myself. With that in mind, I resumed walking, feeling a little down. I wondered why until I realized something: we had not gotten the scroll.