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Two Trails - Title

Chapter 45

Storm’s ears finally quit ringing but there were still spots floating in his vision like the after effects of looking at a flash bulb when it went off. He waved at the cloud of dust. “Lorelei? Are you okay?” His lightning bolt, aimed upwards, had brought down the roof, or at least a substantial portion of it.

He heard her coughing somewhere in the cloud of dust that filled the tunnel. “You’re going to be dead when I’m done with you.”

He grinned. Yeah, she was alright. “You’ll have to catch me first,” he taunted.

She appeared out of the dust and gloom. “I’m too tired to chase you. I’ll just wait until you’re asleep.”

Both of them had been soaked by the rush of water. Now the cloud of dust from the cave-in triggered by his lightning bolt was sticking to them everywhere. They looked like a couple of mud men. “Look on the bright side,” he told her. “The trolls can’t get to us.”

She fanned the air in front of her. “That’s why you’re still alive.” She paused to sniff delicately at herself. “Although, if you don’t get me some bath water pretty soon, I might change my mind.”

Storm had to agree with her. Swimming in sewer water had left both of them smelling like . . . well, like a sewer. He shuddered to think what might have been in the water washing over them.

He dug his chalk out of his pack and made a big X over the cave-in. “Come on, Fingers was headed that way when he tricked us.”

“Fine. But I’m serious, Storm. I need a bath!”

He pointed ahead with his torch. “Isn’t that one of those water collectors up there?”

She peered through the dusty gloom. “I think so. At least I can wash my face and hands.”

“Me too.”

She peered at him. “Maybe. After I’m done.”

He waved her on. “After you, my lady.” Ten minutes later, the water collector was empty and both of them had reasonably clean hands and faces as well as full canteens. Lorelei was still fretting over her hair but it was too long to properly wash in the limited amount of water in one of the collectors. “The next one is all for you,” Storm promised.

Five hours later though, they found something else entirely.

As they sculled around a bend they found themselves in another of the large, almost cavern-like pockets in the under-city. Ahead was a dock jutting out into the underground lake of smelly water. Torches burned brightly every few feet along the edge of it. A dozen or more coracles were upside-down on the dock, waiting to be used. Behind the dock was a gate of iron bars. A passage behind the gate climbed out of sight.

Storm pulled up short when he saw it. Lorelei stopped beside him. “I don’t feel any danger,” she whispered.

He glanced at her with a frown. “Me either. You really are picking up a sixth sense of danger aren’t you?”

“I’m getting it from you,” she smiled.

He shook his head. “Nah. I’ve known plenty of guys who picked it up in combat when we were island hopping through the Pacific.”

He’d told her about some of his military adventures on Earth so she merely nodded and turned to examine the dock. “It might be a way out.”

He nodded and began sculling toward it. He kept his eyes peeled for any movement but he knew there wasn’t any danger. Moments later they bumped up against the dock and got out. They pulled their boats out of the water and looked around.

The dock was made of polished marble. It looked like it might have been the floor of a ballroom at one time. The iron bars of the gate were much newer however, new and well set. He tugged on it experimentally. Rock solid.


“Of course.” He pointed at the wall in the short passage on the other side of the bars. A ring with several keys on it was hanging from a peg. He stretched his arm through the bars but it was hopeless.

Lorelei tapped his shoulder and held up her two remaining arrows. “What if we tied these together? Would it be long enough to reach the ring?”

“Let’s find out.”

She used her spare bowstring to tie the ends of the arrows together then handed the resulting rod to him since his arms were longer than hers. He stuck his arm through the bars again. The arrow head on the very end just barely touched the ring. He sucked in his chest and stomach as much as possible and pushed at the bars, trying to squeeze between them. “Just a little bit . . . further,” he gasped. He gave one final push and caught the ring on the arrowhead. Carefully he lifted. The joint where the two arrows were tied together bent under the weight but it held. He eased it back then finally pulled it through with a sigh of relief.

“Got it!”

She took the ring and tried the keys one after another in quick succession until one of them turned with a click. She grinned and opened the gate.

They explored cautiously.

The passage climbed to a basement. It had various boxes and bales stacked about, along with dusty furniture, old tools, broken weapons, and four barrels of lantern oil. A stone hall beyond led to a junction. To the left, stairs went up. Storm started toward them when Lorelei stopped him.

“This way,” she said, indicating the other passage to the right.

He peered into the gloom. “Why?”

“Because I smell fresh water,” she grinned.

He laughed softly. “Lead on.”

The passage ended in a large empty room. The was a round hole in the center of the floor. A round hole in the ceiling above it revealed a long shaft going up, up, up to a room far above that was well lit. Rope dangled down the middle of the shaft. Looking in the hole in the floor Storm saw water glinting about 30 or 40 feet down.

“It’s a well,” he said. He looked at Lorelei. “I believe you wanted a bath?”

* * * * *

It was nearly an hour before Lorelei pronounced herself satisfied. Their clothes were still wet when they put them back on but the sewer smell was finally gone.

When they went up the stairs they began hearing sounds of human movement. They immediately redoubled their caution. They came to a wooden door and opened it cautiously. It was a crude armory. A rack of swords occupied the middle of the room, and long spears leaned up against one wall. On the other were bundles of plain, unadorned arrows. Lorelei grinned.

After examining them, she shook her head. “I’ve seen better but they’ll do.” She began filling her quiver. Storm nodded without comment. They looked fine to him but she was the archer, not him. He’d take her word for it.

When she was done, they went outside and went to the heavy, iron-bound door at end of the hall. It was securely locked but one of the keys on their pilfered key ring opened it. Storm opened it slowly, sword in hand. He found himself staring down a long hall. There were heavy doors with iron bars in them lining it on either side. The smell and distant clink of chains told him it was a dungeon. He tapped on Lorelei’s hand in drum talk. She nodded silently and followed him in.

She looked around trying to determine who might be the owner of the dungeon. A sigil over the door answered her question. She caught Storm’s attention and pointed at it. It was the symbol of Adrammelech.

He tried not to laugh. Of all the places to wind up in, they were in the dungeons of a Temple to their archenemy. There didn’t seem to be any guards around so he leaned over to whisper in Lorelei’s ear. “What say we have some fun and give His Snootiness a little heartburn in the bargain?”

She rolled her eyes. Her husband’s ideas of fun were more along the lines of the barbarians he said he wasn’t one of rather than the professional soldier he claimed to be. Still, Adrammelech, or his servants, deserved whatever happened to them. “Sure. Just try not to get us killed.”

He grinned and started unlocking cell doors, whispering to those inside that it was a jail break. The hall began filling up with freed prisoners and she directed them to the armory for weapons. After opening the third cell, Storm emerged tight-lipped and grim. “They’re being held as sacrifices for the Temple’s rituals,” he growled to her.

Lorelei had half-expected as much. Human sacrifice was endemic to The Six so it wasn’t a surprise to her. Storm though, with his self-imposed distancing from all things religious, was caught off guard by the news. He hadn’t expected it and his revulsion was clear. He kept opening cell doors but now he was angry and spoiling for a fight.

She ran her eyes over the freed prisoners. Most of them were ordinary men and women, plucked at random off the streets by the Temple’s goon squads. None of them looked like soldiers. The Six weren’t picky about who was sacrificed to them as long as it was worshipers from one of the others. Whatever agreement they had about not attacking each other’s followers apparently didn’t extend to orders they gave their own followers about attacking each other’s followers. All of The Six enjoyed killing or imprisoning followers of the others.

One prisoner stood out from the rest though.

It was an elf, tall and graceful, with long silver hair, arched eyebrows, thin features, and an athletic build. He returned from the armory with not only a sword but a bow and a full quiver of arrows. He stationed himself near the entrance to the dungeon, keeping watch for any approaching guards. Lorelei drifted over to speak to him then, realized to her surprise she knew him.

“Celeborn?” She leaned forward in disbelief. “What are you doing here?”

He was equally surprised. “It’s a pleasure to see you again, Lorelei. I’m here,” he gestured at the dungeon around them, “as the result of a foolish bargain, I’m afraid. Assuming we can fight our way out of here, it’s a mistake I don’t intend to repeat.” He nodded at Storm who was still freeing the prisoners. “Is he the barbarian you were searching for?”

It was her turn to smile. “Yes, my husband, Storm, formerly of the Bear Clan.”

Celeborn’s eyebrows arched in surprise. “Husband? An interesting turn of events.” He hesitated. “Forgive me if I appear forward but you and your husband seem to be more than you appear. In fact,” he examined her closely, “you have changed from the woman I met last spring.

She shook her head, ignoring his comment in order to address his concerns about their exit. “There won’t be any fighting to get out of here. We came in through the sewers. We’ll sneak out the same way.”

He cocked his head with interest. “You snuck in here, through troll-infested sewers, to free prisoners from the temple?”

Storm had finished freeing the prisoners and overheard his question. “Not really. We were in the Temple of Light, trying to get out of town without Adrammelech knowing about it. We found this place by accident. Which temple is it, by the way?”

Celeborn smiled. “It’s called the Waterside District Temple.” He ran his eyes over them. “Fate seems to have a sense of humor. In trying to escape from Adrammelech, you ran right into another temple of his and immediately begin freeing prisoners.” He paused. “Although, as I watched your faces just now, it may be more than mere fate that led you here.”

Storm and Lorelei traded glances. “You’re very perceptive, my friend. Let’s just say my wife and I have friends – and enemies – in high places.” He nodded formally. “By the way, I’m Storm of the Bear Clan and this is my wife, Lorelei of the Abeytu tribe.” Celeborn and Lorelei chuckled. He looked back and forth between them. “What?”

Celeborn bowed formally. “I’m Celeborn, of the Outer Guard of the Elven Court in Shimmerwood, but Lorelei and I are acquaintances from more than a year ago.”

This was an intriguing turn of events but he wanted to get the prisoners moving before the guards or priests came down to check on them or take them up to the altar room to be sacrificed. He made shooing gestures toward the prisoners and they reluctantly began to move down toward the sewers. He talked over his shoulder as he chivied them along. “As I recall, the Outer Guard are supposed to patrol the edges of Shimmerwood to keep out evil. I’ve had heard of them but you’re the first I’ve met. And, you’re a long way from home.”

Celeborn lifted an eyebrow at Lorelei. “You keep saying he’s from the Bear Clan but he doesn’t talk like it.”

“Wait until you see him fight,” she smirked. “But yes, I have an unusual husband.”

Storm rolled his eyes. “You said this was the Waterside District Temple. Does that mean we’re near the lake?” he asked, changing the subject. When Celeborn nodded, he asked, “Can you lead us there?”

Celeborn nodded again. “I’m not familiar with the sewers but we elves always know where water is. I can show you the direction but you’ll have to find the path to it.”

“Perfect, then let’s get out of here. I don’t mind freeing prisoners from the temple, but I’d rather not have Adrammelech know it was us that did it.” Storm turned and began shoving his way through the released prisoners, telling them to follow him.

He and Lorelei finished herding them to the dock and got them loaded on the coracles. A few of them had to double up in the little boats but they bore the weight admirably. His estimation of the tiny craft went up. They were tougher than he’d imagined. After everyone was launched into the water, he, Celeborn, and Lorelei rolled the barrels of lantern oil down to the docks and created a booby trap. The moment someone from the temple opened the gate, it would dump the barrels over and drop a torch on the flammable liquid.

“That ought to give them a nasty surprise,” he grinned.

Celeborn looked at Lorelei as they launched into the water. “You’re right, he is a barbarian.”

Her laughter echoed off the sewer walls.

* * * * *

Between Celeborn’s sense of direction for the waters of Namak Lake and Storm’s chalk marking dead-ends or wrong turns, they made it out of the sewers by the middle of the next day. During the trip Celeborn and Lorelei took turns explaining how they’d met when she was first leaving the Biqah to find Storm.

Celeborn had been working as rear guard for a caravan she joined for safety in case any of the Abeytu, from either side, tried to come after her to kill her. They hadn’t spent much time together, barely enough to learn each other’s name and a little about where they were from but that was it. After heading south to Nahor, the caravan turned west toward Sairaw while Lorelei went east. That was the last they’d seen of each other until she spotted him in the temple dungeons.

When they found the exit from the sewers, it opened into a slow moving river draining out of the lake, flowing past the western edge of the city and heading for the Bitstsah Swamp far to the south. As soon as they emerged into daylight, the prisoners dropped their weapons and ran for the city, anxious to get back to their families and their lives.

Lorelei watched them go. “You’re welcome,” she said sarcastically as they left without a word.

“They just want to go home,” Storm consoled her.

“I know. But they could at least say thanks.”

He shrugged it off and turned to say something to Celeborn when his eyes widened in sudden alarm. “Trolls!”

The swampy area by the lake was just as attractive to the hideous creatures as the sewers they’d left behind. Half a dozen of them were rising up to attack.

Celeborn spun, knocked an arrow, and fired with the legendary grace and poise his people were known for. Lorelei was firing as well, her arrows lighting themselves on fire as they left her bow. The elf lifted an eyebrow. “How?”

Storm whipped out his great sword. “Later.” He swung at the nearest troll, decapitating it, then turned his attention to the next one. It had two of Celeborn’s arrows in it, seemingly unharmed by them. It slapped at his sword and he slipped sideways trying for its neck. Celeborn dropped his bow and pulled his own sword as the trolls closed with them. Lorelei backed away, still firing.

Storm finally lopped the head off his opponent. Celeborn was nearly finished with his troll and Lorelei had killed or driven off the rest with her fiery arrows. Only one remained and she was making short work of it.

Then, something moved behind her and he saw a troll rising up in the tall grass.

With no time for a warning, and without thinking about it, he dropped his sword and scooped up Celeborn’s bow. He yanked an arrow out of the elf’s quiver, knocked, and fired all in one motion. The arrow burst into flames as it left his bow, streaked past Lorelei’s shoulder, and hit the troll squarely in its open mouth.

Lorelei ducked with a squeak of surprise and spun around. The troll was howling in pain as flames came out its mouth and began lighting its face and hair on fire. It stumbled back, slapping futilely as the flames that were growing by the second. She back-pedaled, staring back and forth from the burning troll to Storm. He was rooted to the spot, unable to believe what he’d just done.

Celeborn strode forward and cut the troll’s head off with a single swing. It dropped to the ground where the body continued burning. The elf wiped off his blade and carefully re-sheathed it. He stared at the two of them. “Perhaps now you can tell me how you do that?”

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