Another ranger came in as Aveline and I warmed ourselves beside the fire. Josiah squatted and held out his hands, “it looks like the orcs are returning to the Dark Keep.”
Aveline looked at him as I thought about his words. Dark Keep had been built before the first millennium, even before the dark brothers split with their cousins. The dark brothers seldom used it now and it was almost in ruins. I looked at Aveline and sighed, “I think we are going for a long walk.”
She nodded, “the dark brothers will not allow them to stay in the keep.”
I was also thinking of following one of the lines to an elf stone since it went in that direction. I stood and turned to head towards the kitchen to speak with the cook. When we walked out into the pass we were wearing worg skin clothing and carrying packs. We moved easily over the hard crust of the snow and before we left the pass we were back into a routine.
There were fewer patrols on the plains as we crossed and headed west. When we passed the Frost fortress it was almost deserted. We walked using hidden game trails and slept together each night for warmth. Almost two months after we set out I looked into the distance at the elven made mountain that was the Dark Keep.
We turned to head north and around to avoid most of the patrols. A major river ran into and through it from the north and I had an idea to use it since it was frozen. There were several orc patrols we avoided each day and watched more each night. What drew my attention was the dark brothers that snuck past.
They were in large groups and they seemed to avoid the orc patrols too. There was a gap above the frozen river as it went into the mountain. We slipped in during the mid morning and moved deeper before pulling out a chemical lantern. It was a couple of hours before we came to what had once been a dock.
There were a dozen skeletons of elven boats on the dock. As we moved off the frozen river the stench struck me. I looked around before pulling Reaper and handing my bow to Aveline. As we moved closer to the stairs we found the piles of bones. I looked around again and gestured to her to move back and follow.
The stairs turned to the right and began climbing and came to a landing with a wide doorway to the left. The right side of the landing went straight down to the frozen river below. I heard something from the doorway before there was a roar and a troll emerged. It stomped towards me as I shifted and moved away from Aveline.
It reached for me and I jabbed with the sword into his hand. It pulled it back and yelled as it stomped closer and I slid back and swung as it reached out again. This time the blade took the tip of one finger and it roared and rushed me. I slid aside but jabbed into its left knee. It swiped at me as it turned and took a step back.
It glanced back when the back half of the foot went over the edge of the landing. I lunged and stabbing into its belly and it jerked back. The blade didn’t penetrate but the troll waved its arms as its body leaned back and then it fell. I moved to look down as it hit the frozen river and blinked as the ice cracked and broke.
The troll tried to grab at the edge of the broken ice but missed and vanish in the water below. I looked at Aveline as she came to look down, “trolls don’t swim very well.”
She smiled, “maybe he is going to hold his breath and walk out.”
I grinned as I turned and went to look into the room it had come from. In one corner was a pile of gold, silver and jewels. Bones were scattered around and piled everywhere. I turned to the left and saw another set of stairs heading up. I gestured to Aveline and took my bow back after wiping my sword and putting it away.
We followed the stairs up a long way as they twisted back and forth. The thick door we came to was barred on the other side. We could see through several wide cracks in the door and I pulled a long knife. I shouldered my bow and slipped the knife blade through close to one side. I tried to lift the bar but it didn’t move.
Aveline gestured, “try to slid it.”
I nodded and went back to work. It moved a little so I kept it up and finally we saw the end. I grinned as I moved towards the rusty hinges and put the knife blade through another crack. It took a long time before the wooden bar tilted and fell. I winced at the sound it made and we slowly pulled and forced the door open.
We looked in and saw a dark hallway in what had been a large dungeon. We slipped in and started moving and peering into empty cells. There were skeletons in almost every cell, most were human. The huge dungeon had more than one level and when we went up I glanced at Aveline.
There were sounds of orcs and I moved down the corridor and glanced into a cell. Three orcs were eating a fourth and I pulled back. I pulled my short swords before moving around the corner and though the open cell door. I stabbed through the neck of one orc and cut another’s throat before lunging to killed the last with a stab down into it’s chest.
I moved back as they spasmed and died and cleaned my swords. When we went to the next cell there was more orcs feeding and Aveline pulled her swords before we both moved in. We moved back and forth down the hall, sometimes moving into cells across from each other. By the time we reached the stairs almost fifty orcs were dead behind us.
This time we found an open door at the top of the stairs. There was a wide hallway beyond as I peeked out. We slipped out and moved silently towards the center area of the Keep. I was still trying to follow the line to the elf stone. We climbed another set of stairs and went past what had once been a huge throne room.
Orcs were camped in it and the throne had been replaced with one of bone. That was when the screams began and I glanced at Aveline before moving quickly. I pulled her around a corner and down to a door. It was locked and I frowned since orcs would not lock a door. I used a knife between the frame to work the bolt back into the door before pulling it open.
Aveline pushed me in and shut the door as we heard more fighting. We were in an anti room and I moved to the other door as she made sure the outer door was locked again. It took a few minutes to move the locking latch back before I pulled the door open. I stepping into a large room much like the one behind the throne room at Frost fortress.
A chest of gems was open on the rear desk and the tapestry around the room was in tatters. I looked at the back desk again before looking at the far wall. Just above eye level was a bright glittering orb. I walked to it and was almost afraid of what would happen. I reached up with both hands and pulled it from the small niche it was in.
It flared and I stiffened as stabbing pain lanced into and through my eyes. The world went dark and it felt like my eyes were being torn out and then stretched and shoved back in. I went to my knees as light and sight returned. It was different, sharper with more detail. Aveline touched me, “are you okay?”
I slipped my pack off and tucked the Elf’s Sight into my shirt. I moved to the chest of gems and made a large pouch before filling it. The screams and sounds of fighting drew closer to the throne room door and Aveline made a pouch and added more gems. There was a loud bang and the room shook.
I pulled Aveline up and we put our packs on. I moved to the throne room door and looked through a crack. I glanced at Aveline, “a giant and it looks pissed.”
She smiled, “how can you tell?”
I jerked back and away from the door as an orc was slammed into it, “it is ripping the orcs apart and using them to beat others to death.”
I moved to the other door and unlocked it before slipping out. I listened at the other door before pulling my short swords and opening it. I stabbed a dark brother as he spun and slashed out to the side to cut another’s throat. I went right as Aveline joined me and stepped into the pattern as I sliced the gut of an orc open.
I slid to the left as Aveline went right and stabbed one of her swords into the side of another orc. We left the hallway behind us littered with dead as we fought back towards the dungeon. The few dark brothers were fighting and killing orcs. We had just reached the dungeon door when the huge giant appeared.
He was throwing orcs and beating others with a dead one as he lumbered down the hall. I pushed Aveline in the door and stabbed an orc before slamming the door. I turned and followed her down as the door shook. Aveline stabbed an orc as she stepped off the stairs and I moved around her to lead the way.
I took an orc’s arm as it thrust an old rusty sword at me and then cut his stomach open before I continued to move. I glanced back as the door burst in and stuck both swords into an orc as the rest fled. I pulled my bow off as the giant bellowed and ducked to come through the door. I nocked an arrow and aimed before releasing as I pulled another.
The first hit his head and he looked up just as I fired again. This one struck his left eye and vanished as I pulled a third. The giant fell and began to spasm and jerk and I hesitated before replacing the arrow in the quiver and shouldering my bow. I pulled out both my swords and Aveline chuckled as we headed down the empty cell hallway.
We reached the other stairway and started down and there was no sign of orcs. After we went through the thick door on that level I closed it. When we reached the room the troll had been in Aveline caught my arm, “we can take the treasure.”
I looked at it and snorted but she was already moving. She used large pieces of rotten cloth to make bags and packs. We pulled everything out and down to the dock where I was ready to leave it. She grinned and moved to the boat ruins and returned with boards and ribs. She pulled elven rope from her pack and began putting everything together.
An hour and she had a sled with two runners and a small platform large enough for the treasure and our packs. I moved it to the river and we loaded it before I used rope from my pack and started pulling the sled up river the way we had come in. After we came out Aveline led us away using low ground and cover.
We went east and then straight south across the plains. This time there were few patrols as the orcs that survived the dark brothers fled. We were across the north plains and heading towards the elven highlands when we saw the patrol. Aveline hissed and we squatted behind a large bush but I grinned a moment later and stood, “Gilbert!”
The elves spun and lifted bows before one laughed as he strode towards us, “what are you doing here?”
I laughed, “Giant hunting in the Dark Keep.”
He caught me in a hug before pushing me back and looking into my eyes, “what... something happened to you.”
I frowned and glanced at the others as they walked closer, “you are returning to the highlands?”
He nodded as the others stopped, “we were hunting the last of the goblins.”
I looked at Aveline, “did her majesty get the second stone?”
He glanced at the others and nodded and I pulled out the large diamond that I had wrapped in a rabbit skin. I held it out, “she needs this one. It is the Elf’s Sight.”
He sucked in a breath, “another?”
Aveline cleared her throat and I glanced at her and she gestured, “we need to go.”
Gilbert took the stone, “I will make sure she gets it.”
I slapped his shoulder, “you should be with your lady.”
He grinned, “she chased me out and said I was bothering her and the baby to much.”
The other elves laughed and looked around, “stay safe.”
I went to grab the rope and started pulling the sled as Aveline led us away. It was a long way back to Blue Pass and I wasn’t surprised to find elves waiting when we got there.