For my Grandma, who loves this story. You are strong, and you are never fighting alone. “The God of angel armies is always by your side”.
Continued… (for a full list of the parts to Ancient Fire, click here)
(Previously: Elad offered to guide Lottie to Death’s Deep, where the Cloak Girl told her the ancient magical sword of Nimrod’s, Fyre, was hidden, and they began the journey)
Lottie’s feet felt as though all the bones in them had snapped, and the pain shot up her legs with every step. But she was crouching in the cold cave-like entrance to Death’s Deep, and the sun, though no longer visible, still painted the western sky with the faint memory of orange and gold. Elad had known exactly where to go and had brought her to her goal much sooner than she expected. And she wasn’t at all sure she was ready for this.
“We’ll have to be careful in there,” Elad said behind her as she peered into the dark depths. “You know they say the Lost People believed their dead to be sacred, and protected Death’s Deep as their primary crypt with traps to guard against grave robbers. The traps are most likely still functional, so we should watch our steps. Very carefully.”
“”We’? You’re coming too?”
Elad didn’t answer. Lottie twisted to look at him, and almost screamed. Just like that, the man had disappeared, replaced by a large gray wolf. She shivered and quickly tried to hide it.
“You don’t have to come. I mean, I’d like – well, just please don’t feel you need to. Um…” She shifted nervously, and then shrugged. “Right,” she added uncertainly, and crawled into the cave.
In the darkness, she felt the outline of the hole in the floor she could only dimly make out from the cave entrance. Through it she could see down into the interior, which looked to be several feet down. It seemed to be all stone, and the stone steps that had once led the way down were now crumbled and fallen. Some earthquake must have taken its toll.
Gritting her teeth, Lottie gathered herself up and dropped down, feet first, in a huddled ball. She landed painfully, and for a confused second thought the creak and smashing thud she heard as she hit the ground was bones breaking. Then she realized the sound had come from above her, and remembered a split second when she thought something was whistling over her head, just above her hair. Blinking rapidly, frightened of what she might see, she made out what looked like a huge battleax, buried blade-first in the wall behind her. Wolf Elad dropped down beside her.
Lottie reached out a nervous hand and touched the ax, running along it to where its haft was hidden in a slot in the stone.
“Is this one of the traps, do you think?” she asked. She swallowed. It had almost killed her, and this was only the beginning.
Elad had his nose to the ground, sniffing, weaving back and forth. He made a sound like a whine, and Lottie jumped.
“What?” she asked, heart pounding. Elad stared at her. Of course, he couldn’t speak. But something was disturbing him, she was pretty certain, and there was no way for him to tell her what it was.
Lottie took out the lantern the Cloak Girl had given her, already scarcely able to see the way ahead of her, and lit it with some trouble. This was better, and she could see a stone hallway leading straight ahead. She walked forward slowly, cautiously, terrified of an ax slicing at her head again at any moment.
Heavy iron doors hulked on either side, guardians to who knew how many sealed coffins of the Lost People beyond. Elad still wove about, sniffing and concerned. Lottie didn’t have the energy to care anymore. Death was kept busy trying to claim her.
She had nearly been skewered by spikes shooting out of the wall, only being saved by the fact that the tripwire trigger had slammed her onto her face below the range of the mean-looking spikes.
In one place, pieces of the floor had dropped away beneath her feet, and she had just escaped falling down into an immeasurably deep pit by flinging back her arms and scrabbling for finger holds on the stone behind her. Elad’s teeth had scratched her arm painfully, but had saved her life.
Once, distracted and smelling his way, Elad was almost sliced in half by a second ax trap. Lottie had seen it coming only just in time and had jerked him back by the tail. Neither of them had expected to be alive, and Lottie was still rubbing her arms from the constant tension and shock of it all.
Now she was swallowing down the acid of fear as she stared at the tunnel of flames the singed at her. Some flammable gas must have been released into the hall by who knew what trigger, and as soon as her lantern had tickled it, the whole passage ahead had come to hot life. Her hair was frazzled and waving, and her skin burned, but she was alive and relatively unharmed. But the call had been one of the closest so far.
“I can’t take another one of these,” she whispered in almost a wail. “If we run into another I’m really going to die.”
Elad barked, but was still robbed of speech. Looking at him, Lottie wondered what time it was. It was almost like having a clock with her, one that didn’t have to be wound up, but would chime the dawn and dusk with unwavering accuracy.
“Can you tell what time it is?” she asked. “You know, with your… thing?”
Elad shook his head.
Lottie sighed. “Oh well, I guess we’ll just know when it’s day outside. I’m going to hope that we’ll be through this and out in the sun again before you change. Might as well dream big.”
The flames were almost dead, but she waited, wanting the passage to cool a little before she tried to walk down it. And don’t touch any iron doors! she reminded herself. They’d burn your skin right off!
“At least we won’t have to deal with the traps on our way back,” she observed. “They won’t be reset, and I’m sure not going to reset them.”
Elad made a sound like a choking growl, which she realized must be a chuckle. Lottie tried not to shiver. A journey, in the dark, in a tomb, looking for a special sword, with a Werewolf. Who’d have thought?
They were almost at the end, and when they had reached the end of the scorched part in the tunnel, a door confronted them. There was nowhere else to go.
“The very last crypt,” Lottie whispered. “The crypt of Harad the Foolish. Do you think it will really be there?”
Elad could give no answer, and she didn’t wait for one. She reached out her hand and brought it near the knob of the door. Heat radiated from it before she even grazed it. She stepped back.
“Darn it anyway! We still have to wait. I’m not touching that thing till it’s cool as a cucumber.” She began to pace, back and forth across the passage. Ten steps in one direction, about face, ten steps in the other. A hundred times. Two hundred. Five hundred. She reached for the knob again. This time she felt no warning heat, so she gripped it, but had only turned it halfway before the slow burning had burrowed into her bones. She released it and shook her hand. A hundred more steps and she attacked it again, this time twisting it quickly and thrusting the door open before it had time to warm up in her palm.
The room beyond was small and square. A huge stone box squatted in the center, sealed so thoroughly that it seemed to be a growth of stone, smooth and one with the floor. It was covered in scrawls in the old Valinorean script, which Lottie knew some of from her lessons with Aman.
She scanned them, but it seemed to be a narrative of the life and heroics of the entombed. She did read the name Harad repeated many times, and confirmed that it was he to whom the tomb belonged.
Elad barked, and she hopped to where he stood, frantically sniffing a box at the foot of the coffin. Setting down her lantern, she examined it closely. Valinorean script covered it too, but the message was short and simple.
Let it lie here with me
That where I have failed none shall succeed
For the coming of Nimrod’s blood is
A fool I was, but the one who seeks it here
Is the greatest fool of all!
Lottie whistled and shook her head. “Egotistical self-absorbed pigheaded royalty!” She snorted, and turned the box over. It was sword-sized. Was the Cloak Girl right? Had the old King Harad found Fyre and hidden it with him in his tomb? Was this it? She found the latch. Clicking it back, she opened the box.
She snatched the lantern and held it close, hoping it was darkness that deceived her eyes. It wasn’t. The box was empty.
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