The surrounding flora slowly changed from primitive broad-leaf vegetation to a heartier spattering of sturdy trees and grass covered hills as we crossed north into the Bloodtide Coast. We followed the tracks, which continued to lead north but they ended at the edge of a plunging drop set against the hillside. The gentle lapping of water echoed up through the large opening in the ground where a pirate ship had been lost long ago.
“Looks like they went down there,” Dee pointed out. “But why? It’s just a cavern. They’d be trapped.”
I shook my head and placed my hands on my hips as I inspected the steep drop. At the cavern’s edge, I peered over and tried to recall how far the drop was.
“Not exactly. There’s a pathway through the back that opens into the mountains.”
“How do you know that?” she asked.
“I stumbled upon it while searching for these locations,” I replied. “And Alec will be heading there with our people.”
“Oh,” Dee replied quietly and then added firmly. “When this is all over I want to hear the whole truth.”
I smiled but clenched my jaw and remained silent, knowing I couldn’t tell her the whole truth. At least not yet. “I know,” I finally replied.
“The way out isn’t too small I hope,” Dee said as she peered over the edge. Her brows peaked together in worry.
“It’s a little tight but should be fine,” I said, examining her large Norn stature. “Nothin’ you can’t handle.”
Dee shuddered and frowned. “Is this the only way?”
I nodded. “I have a stash down with some supplies we’ll need. It’s cold where we’re headed.”
Dee’s eyes widened and lit up with joy. “Good! I’m tired of this sweat box of a land. It is not conducive to a Norn.”
“I don’t think it’s conducive to most, honestly,” I chuckled. I was getting tired of the heat and humidity as well. “You ready?”
Taking in a deep breath and letting it out, Dee rolled her shoulders, stretched her neck, and then nodded.
“Make sure you aim for the center of the opening. It’ll land you in the deepest part of the water pool.” I flashed her a quick smile, dug my toes in, and sped for the opening, leaping into the void above the pool and let gravity do the rest. I landed in the cold water with a splash and let myself sink into the cold for a moment. It was a nice change from the heat of the southern lands. With a kick, I began my ascent to check on Dee.
A large wave of water washed over me as I surfaced and I shook my head to clear my vision. With a thrashing of water, Dee surfaced. She pushed back dark strands of hair clinging to her face and grinned.
“More fun than you thought, eh?” I asked and then started swimming for the old ship.
No one really knew how long the old pirate ship had been down here in the passage nor how it managed to get stuck in here, but it made a perfect place to stash supplies. Not many ventured down into this water filled cavern because it was difficult to get out and not many knew about the small passage through the mountain.
Grabbing the swollen wood, I pulled myself out of the cold water and onto the lower deck of the old ship. Water dripped off of me, wetting the old boards, as I waited for Dee to pull herself out of the water.
“Where are these supplies of yours?” Dee asked as she wrung the water out of her dark locks.
I motioned to a door. “In the belly of the beast,” I joked as I reached for the rusty door knob. Over time, the knob had grown stiff and this time it barely budged when I turned it.
“Problems?” Dee asked as she looked over my shoulder.
I shook my head. “No.” I gave the knob another try but it refused to budge more than just a bit. Letting out a frustrated sigh, I took a step back and kicked at the door, thrusting my foot against the wood next to the knob. The door burst open with a loud, splintering crack. “No problem,” I said, flashing Dee a smirk.
We stepped out of the dim light of the cavern and into the dark of the ship. Dee paused for a moment to allow her eyes to adjust but I walked on. I knew my way around this ship and could traverse it with my eyes closed. “Here,” I said, reaching for Dee’s arm. “It’s okay. I know where I’m going.” I led her slowly along the dark hallway, my hand holding onto her wrist. “Duck,” I said, warning her of a low doorway as we turned left into another passageway. I counted two steps and stopped. “Stairs,” I said before continuing slowly.
I could hear the water gently lapping against the ship’s hull as we neared the belly. I didn’t need light this time to know that the hull was full of old barrels, crates, and a few empty chests. I had a good enough memory. I led Dee around the old cargo, giving note of where the obstacles were as we made our way to the back where my stash was. Carefully, I rolled an old barrel off of the chest and pulled open the lid. Blindly, feeling around inside, I pulled out an old torch and a couple pieces of flint. With a few strikes, I lit the torch and illuminated the inside of the old ship.
Dee let out a surprised cry as her eyes were assaulted by the bright light after being in the dark for awhile. My own eyes were sore from the change in light but after I blinked them a few times, the pain went away and my vision came into focus. Reaching in the chest, I started pulling out dry clothing.
“I’m not sure I have anything in here for you. Here,” I said, handing the torch to Dee and then continued rifling through the chest. After I had fished out dry clothing for myself, I dug deeper and found that Rhys and Sir Fendall had left spare clothing in here as well. I pulled out a tunic embroidered with threads in blue, violet, and silver. I took the soft cloth in both my hands and brought it to my face. I could still smell his scent on the material and my stomach lurched. I put the tunic down quickly before tears could fill my eyes. I didn’t have time to dwell on the past but it seemed that at every turn, there it was haunting me. As I looked back in the chest, I found one of Sir Fendall’s off-white tunics. An Elonian sun had been embroidered on the left side that when worn, covered his heart.
“Here,” I said as I handed her Sir Fendall’s tunic. Bowing my head, I clenched my jaw and tried to keep back the tears. “Try this. He won’t be needing it anymore.”
“Anymore?” Dee asked, puzzled, as she reached out to take it but then hesitated. “Is he?”
“When did this happen?”
I exhaled slowly, trying to remain calm. “Recently.”
“Oh,” she replied softly as she took the tunic and then bowed her head solemnly. “May Raven guide him safely to the Mists and may he run with Bear for all eternity.”
We changed in silence. Sir Fendall’s tunic was a little small on Dee but after loosening a few of the seams in the sides and the arms, she made it work. It still clung to her skin tightly and I worried that it might tear, but the material held. Rhys had left a fur cloak in the chest as well so I gave it to Dee to use as a shawl. Since she was a Norn, the cold wouldn’t be a problem for her. In fact, she’d feel more at home in the mountains than anywhere else. I on the other hand needed a little extra warmth so I pulled out a fur lined skirt and top.
Torch in hand, Dee and I worked our way up from the belly of the ship and out onto the deck. We leapt from the bow down to a flat gathering of boulders and stepped our way through the rocky shore of the water’s edge and up towards the back of the cavern. Hugging the rocky wall, I led Dee along the path through the hillside and with torch in hand, we reached the other side. Some of the passage was tight for a Norn but Dee managed, despite the racing of her anxiety stricken heart. It pounded like a drum inside my head.
A cold breeze greeted us from the other side as we emerged from the dark passageway and into Lornor’s Pass. The water from the cavern flowed through the mountain to join an elongated lake to which the northern half was often avoided because it had become a haven for pirates. Luckily, we would be avoiding that area entirely. I exhaled and could see my breath as I pulled my cloak tighter around me with my free hand. The frozen ground crunched under our feet and there was a light dusting of white all around from a recent snowfall, making tracks easy to find. Bending down, I extinguished the torch in the snow and tossed it back in the passageway.
Dee stretched her arms over her head and I thought I heard a few more seams on the tunic snap. “Ah! It’s nice to be back in more tolerable weather.”
“It is a nice change,” I noted as I studied the ground. “Here,” I said, pointing at a collection of tracks surrounding us. They converged a few feet away from us and continued in a Northeast direction, towards a bridge that crossed the southern part of the lake.
“Good, let’s go,” Dee said, taking the lead and I followed as I mulled over in my head what we might find at this location. What sort of surprise would Alec have waiting for us there? How many of them could I save? Would they stay? Should they stay? I forced myself to put those questions away until later. None of these questions mattered unless we could get them back safely.
“We’ll get them back,” Dee assured me. Maybe the worry was plain on my face or maybe she could feel it radiate off of me. Either way, it felt nice to have someone assure me for once.
The snow had grown deeper as we traveled further into the southern Shiverpeak Mountains. Determined, Dee and I trudged through the calf high snow as the last bit of sunlight grew into ribbons of red and orange low in the sky. We were both panting hard from our trek further into the mountains bit Dee and I both agreed that there was no time to stop. The longer Alec and his men had our people, the higher the possibility of injury or worse to our people. Driven by our determination, we continued on without rest.
“How much further you think?” Dee asked, breathing hard. She kicked at the snow, trying to shake off some that had stuck to her boots.
“Not much,” I managed to reply in between labored breaths. I pointed ahead to a curve in the hillside. “Just around there and down across the frozen lake if they’re heading where I think.”
By the time we had reached the frozen lake, the nearly full moon was directly above us. The sky was clear and full of stars and the moon’s light reflected off of the white snow, illuminating our way. We had to be careful here though because the reminders of Scarlet Briar’s resourcefulness remained in the form of steam creatures. Hulking metal monstrosities in the forms of minotaurs and tentacled wind riders stalked the lake side without any real purpose other than to destroy. Thankfully, their hunting paths were predictable and Dee and I were able to slip past them without being seen.
Grenth’s Door loomed ahead of us and despite the centuries it had existed in this world, it had managed to withstand the test of time. Most of the wood on the roof had decayed and fallen however, the stone walls and hard wood framing still stood strong. In the past, it had served as a place where Grenth’s followers could summon one of His Reapers to guide them to the Underworld. Because of the growing dangers in the Underworld, the way had been closed and now rarely did a follower happen by this way.
Dee’s face twisted slightly, revealing her apprehension at entering. The tracks lead this way, exactly where I had predicted. Cold wind howled though the dark doorway, carrying a chill that crawled up my spine and made its home in my racing heart. There were spots of greenish light inside, from the bioluminescent grubs that liked to live in the dark corridor I suspected.
“This the place?” Dee asked as she drew her greatsword. Her widened eyes never left the doorway.
I nodded. “Yup. Are you ready for this?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” she replied.
“This isn’t going to be a pretty fight, Dee,” I warned. “Alec isn’t a rational person and I got to see that up close. He’s angry and motivated and desperately wants what’s in there and he’ll kill for it. We need to be careful if we can and protect our people.”
Narrowing her eyes, Dee gripped her weapon tightly until her knuckles turned white. “I’m hoping he doesn’t give us any other choice than to fight,” she growled.
“We need to get our people back,” I reminded her. “After that, I don’t care what you do to Alec and his men. They have it coming.”