From Book Two: Shadow in the Flame
Slowly she awoke.
Molly was in an unfamiliar place - an unfamiliar mind - and panicking wouldn't help.
Her numbly hands were bound with a black rope and raised a bit above her head, and although she couldn't see them, her legs and feet were also secured. She looked down at her body. Her clothes were a bit torn and soiled with a reddish slime that smelled like death. She felt sore and as she looked over her arms she could see bruises.
Molly looked about the strange room and tried to get her bearings. Slowly she remembered what happened. What she had thought was a dream must have been reality. She remembered running from the encampment and through the wastelands; she remembered being chased by horrific creatures, finding it very hard to breathe, and becoming light headed.
I must have passed out.
Images of her being lifted in the arms of a disgusting creature flashed. Its body had been subjected to an extreme form of body modification and scarification. The creature’s skin was peeled away, and in some places, cut away from most of the flesh and fat. Tendons, muscle and threaded veins were exposed. Its face was severely disfigured and its lips peeled back to permanently expose its teeth, which the creature could only click together as a means of communication. Click-click-click-click. The dreadful sound blared through her mind. It was all around her, more visceral now, more painful and was felt more like an intense wave of air stinging her. Click-click-click-click. She closed her eyes.
The sound went silent.
Where am I?
The chamber was damp, dark, and appropriately foreboding. Black spiders scurried across its cold, stone walls and the floor was a maze of broken flagstones, dead roots and withered vines sprawled over them. Above her, faint light, through a small window’s iron grate, shone into the small place, casting twisted shadows upon the floor. There was a door made of iron, cold, pitted, and in some spots rust weeping down its surface. The walls of the room closed in on her consciousness, smothering, stifling her. Fear clutched at her throat and unwanted tears started to flow unbidden and unstoppable.
A sound came from outside the door. It was the sound of death; Molly had heard it before. It was the sound of a blade being drawn, cutting and singing through the air, into flesh and bone, the spattering of blood like rain. Again and again the sound came. The air was rent with the sounds of muted gasps, the gush of bleeding, and the thud of bodies hitting the ground. But it was only for several seconds. Then everything was still. Fear struck at her. She sighed and curled up.
All is certainly lost.
The door was flung open. Before her stood a man, tall, black robed and hooded, blood dripping from a sword. His features were lost in the darkness of the hood. The stranger stood over her for a few minutes irresolute, in the faint light. Now, she could make out eyes cold in the darkness of his hood. Her eyes darted from his eyes to his sword, as the figure stepped closer, the dim light glinting off the razor sharp blade, now inches from her body. Fear began to ensnare her thoughts, but she ignored it. Her moment of fear was hurriedly replaced by something else, an indefinable something that seemed to give her strength and courage.
I am ready.
The stranger knelt to one knee. He pushed back his hood. The eyes that stared back at her were a deep brown and full of secrets. The man's features were chiseled and handsome, giving him an overall rugged look. Thin wisps of black hair swept over and around his head. An ominous seriousness masked the stranger. A ripple of anxiety now struck at her.
“Are you here to kill me?” Molly broke the silence.
The stranger did not respond. Instead he reached out and took her hair into his hand. She winced with his movement. He studied her long grey hair. He could hear Molly swallow.
“Angel with a broken wing,” he said softly.
He then gently drew the back of his hand alongside her neck to her shoulders. Molly writhed against him, trying to back away. From her shoulders his hand found its way to the pendant’s chain around her neck. Placing his hand upon her, he took the pendant from her neck into his hand and examined it. The Lia Fail turned red and began to warm and throb.
Molly’s heart pounded relentlessly in her chest and thundered in her ears, and she wanted to scream, but was frightful that more of the disgusting creatures would come. She felt quite drawn to the stranger, although she did not understand this emotion. She looked into the man's eyes and now knew for a certainty that he meant no harm.
“What is your name good sir?” she asked.
He released the Lia Fail and looked at her.
“The one who is lost must become the seeker.”
She did not understand him, but she felt she could trust him. Swiftly, the man drew a small knife from a leather bracer and cut the rope that bound her hands and feet. As he did this, Molly looked at him, into his eyes. There was a hardness about him, a determination, an air of stoicism and confidence, a great strength that couldn't be denied or ignored. But she also sensed heartlessness. Here was a man who had seen death, and wielded death, and who didn't fear death.
“You have been imprisoned by the Ru Gwaith of ‘Shk Ndor. The one who brought you here is their leader and he is called I’ Mor Ba. He owes no allegiance to the brood of the Drueger. But he would sell your soul for the right price.”
Suddenly from outside there came a series of high-pitched whistling or piping notes, almost like a cackling type of laugh. It was not the clicking or clattering sound from the creatures, yet the sounds frightened Molly and she shivered. The stranger drew his gaze to the window, listening intently to the sounds as if they had meaning.
He turned to Molly. “Do not fear. What you hear is a warning from my companion, Tiri Thoron, the great eagle. We must leave this place.”
Reaching down, the stranger swept up Molly into his arms and carried her from the chamber. She brought her arms about his neck and held on tightly. His body was solid where she pressed against him, muscular, honed over the years with purpose. He ran down a hallway thickly strewn with the corpses of Ru Gwaith, the stench of death clearly in the air. Once outside Molly took a deep breath hoping for fresh air, but instead the air was stale and reeked of decay. There was little light and a greyish mist lifted over the place. Molly could feel a rush of air as they were greeted by a great eagle who swooped and perched upon the man’s shoulder and near Molly. The eagle was enormous and commanding, its eyes larger than hers and yellow, the same coloration as its powerful bill. Its head was snowy-feathered and its tail white, its wings and body a deep black.
“Kee-yep! Kee-yep! Seeeeeeeeeeee-chk! Tiri Thoron!” The great bird announced itself. It raised its head and spread its wings. Looking down upon Molly, the bird tilted its head focusing one eye on her. Then the bird lifted itself, gave a melodious shriek and flew high into the air, circling above.
The man stopped and looked up to his companion and then to the north. Over a series of bleak hills rushed a band of hideous Ru Gwaith. Still holding onto Molly, the man brandished his sword. He ran into the oncoming wave of brutes, he spun and twirled with his sword, slashing and stabbing, cutting deep, while continuing to hold onto Molly. His momentum diverted the evil, sending dozens rippling back along their path. Ugly things of more bone and muscle than flesh, they chattered madly as they scrabbled.
Soon, the fight was over and without losing a step the man continued his run. Above, Tiri Thoron soared ever vigilant and on the lookout for Ru Gwaith. In time they came upon a vast range of mountains that were lost from sight in a thick blanket of cloud. Rain started to slash down in great diagonal sweeps and the wind battered against them in frantic gusts.
The man made his way to a trail, barely noticeable at first, shrouded with rocks and boulders and brush. The trail twisted and turned as it wound its way up a mountain side, stones falling and cutting them off from the other sides, a treacherous climb. There were times when they came across rock that had fallen across the path from a disturbance higher up, but they continued onward Molly still in the man’s arms. Gradually the trail evened out and they came to a cave opening, partially obscured by rock and brush. The eagle swooped onto the man’s shoulders as the three entered the opening.
The cave was dark, gloomy, and silent at first. Molly could scarcely see where they were going. They kept moving forward, deeper into the darkness until a glimmer of a yellow flame could be seen. Molly could hear the crackle of flame which pleased her, for now she thought of warmth from the rain and dampness. As they neared the light, she could make out the fire, and a rush of fresh air was felt as they entered what appeared to be a large cavern. Sitting near the fire was a female elf holding an infant to her bosom. The man gently put Molly down near the fire. He sat near her; the eagle still perched on his shoulder. He pushed back his hood.
“This is my child,” the man said. “Her name is Alvilda Ase. My child’s mother is called Ar’ Endel. She is of the En' Edhel. My child and I are the last of the Mur’ Edan. I am called Ruin Thatch and this is my home.”