Frozen Crystal
Depths of Peril - Frozen Crystal     “Do you see that? The shimmer behind those vines?” the elf, Drelianlis asked his cousin.

     “I do.” Lulansal, botanist by trade, took more interest and pleasure in the green vines than any shimmering, though she didn’t say as much. 

     The childhood friends traveled the world together, keeping each other safe while pursuing their individual passions. He loved exploring and learning the history of the world at large. She loved the wilds and the untamed nature outside of the civilized realm. 

     “I tell you, Lulan, I have a good feeling about this place.” Drel pushed aside the tangle of vines, testing the glimmering glow with his double spear-ended staff, a traditional weapon for elven warriors. The shimmer rippled as the bone spear point passed through into the darkness beyond.

     “The magical camouflage is weak.” Lulan spread a purple powder made of ammeral flowers beneath the opening, and it didn’t change color. 

     “Not a trap then. Excellent!”

     “That doesn’t mean this is the place where the red dragon of old hid his treasure.” Lulansal, placed her hand on his shoulder, amazed at his child-like sense of adventure every time he thought he’d found it. 

     “Worry not, my dear friend, I have accepted failure before, and I will again if wrong. I’ll fail millions of times if it brings me closer to success. All the clues point here.”

     “Or another similar place.”

     “Where else is there jungle in Aleria?”

     “If I tell you the jungle is very wide, you will not care, but I’ll add that the clues you have found these many years never implied the jungle must be in Aleria.”

     Drel grimaced. “You sound like a scholar.”

     “Like a teacher back in Outer Kirhitelon?” She smiled.

     “A mother!” He winked, amused. “Shall we find out if I’m right?” He held back the vines and entered the hidden cave followed by Lulan. 

     She lit the top of her staff with magic as they explored the long passageway. Gloomy gray fog clung to the ground, obscuring any footprints. Lulan, normally confident navigating tight places, felt uneasy. It took her a moment to discern the source. It was the animal and plant life in the cave, or more to the point, the lack of it. “Drel,” she whispered. 

     He waved his hand, calling for silence. Over the many years of adventuring together, their established routines had saved them many times. 

     The eerie quiet, the lack of life chilled her. Perhaps that great red dragon, Helaque, made this place for his treasure. What chance did they have if it barred the smallest life, and they entered without resistance?

     “Drel.” She slowed. 

     He looked back. His eyebrows raised, asking what caused this unusual interruption. 

     “You may be right. Something is wrong. Do not smile like that!”

     The wide grin spread across Drel’s face. “Lulan, the negative optimist.”

     “Do not make fun, Drel, I’m serious.”

     He dropped the smile. “I know. We will take care.” He continued forward. 

     Lulan followed, but kept well back. She hugged her arm across her chest, trying to repress the urge to shiver. No, she did not like this place. 

     The hazy fog thickened as they entered a wide chamber. Drel signaled her; he’d found something. On the cavern floor, a pile of golden coins glittered in the light from her staff. A trail of coins streamed from the pile in the opposite direction, farther back into a tunnel opening. Her motioned her on, to test the coins. She smiled at his impatience and excitement. The color of the ammeral powder remained constant, but it didn’t relieve her anxiety. 

     She stepped back as Drel lifted a coin off the stack to get a closer look at the markings. He opened his mouth to speak, but instead of words, Lulan heard the groan of glass. A wave of crystal sprouted from the floor like a stalagmite and encased Drel in a frozen pose of surprise. 

     Lulan ran to the shard, careful not to disturb the coins. She threw a handful of unchanging ammeral onto the crystal, poked it with her staff, and pressed her hands onto the cold glass. She couldn’t discern if Drel was conscious, or alive at all. When footsteps echoed from the cave opposite her position, she slid into the shadows, dousing her staff.

     “Hum Dee Dee. What have I caught?” A red man, with hooves for feet, two horns on top of his head, and a mane of fire sang to the pet dog following him into the chamber.  He lit the dim surroundings, like a demon of fire. “Oh, an elf! It’s been a long time since we’ve had one of those, eh boy?” 

     The dog responded with a bark, and circled his master’s hooves. The demon pressed a finger around the circumference of the crystal, shaping it like clay. His finger left a groove for the cord of rope. He wrapped it around the crystal twice before tying a knot. Tipping the crystal encasement forward, he dragged Drel through the chamber and into the cave as he hummed. Lulan followed, careful not to touch any coins in the path.

     The demon took several forks in the system of caves, but it wasn’t difficult for her to follow the large marks scratched into the stone floor. 

     She watched from an opening as the demon positioned Drel among the nearest of several rows of encasements in a large chamber. Lulan waited for the echoes to dissipate after the demon and dog exited a side passage. She ran to Drel. “What am I to do?” she whispered.

     After searching the room for any sign or artifice that might open the crystal prisons, she walked from shard to shard, marveling at the frozen inhabitants. The demon, a collector of some kind, had many races of people, and a variety of animals. Her breath stopped as she paused before the encasement on the opposite side of the room, a unicorn. Could it be real? Elves knew these creatures were more than myth but they became extinct long ago, when elfen history was still oral. Such a delicate animal couldn’t survive in the savage world. How did this one get here? 

     She moved on, but found nothing useful, except the rope discarded near the opening. She retied Drel’s crystal, tipped it over, and dragged it. As she entered the cavern with the false coins, she took great care to keep near the wall. Lulan wiped sweat from her hands. 

     “Almost there,” she whispered to her silent friend. Near the exit to the tunnel leading outside, she looked up and saw the demon staring at her. He frowned while his pet calmly sat before his hooves.

     “My pretty, slender girl.” The demon paused and leaned on the wall in the tunnel’s entryway. “Such a naughty elf. Don’t you care for money? I suppose I have other things, if not.” His eyes searched the ceiling as though in thought, then returned to focus on her. 

     Lulan dropped the rope, and held her staff in both hands. 

     “What? Nothing to say?” The demon took a step forward.

     “Release my friend, or get out of my way.” She positioned herself in front of Drel’s encasement, hoping she didn’t look as scared as she felt. She searched her memory for a way to stop a demon, and came up empty. Demons, powerful beings from another realm, were rarely seen. This one would burn her or bury her if he didn’t get his way.

     “Well, well. She has a tongue after all.” The smile left his face. “But for how long? Dog, attack!” 

     Lulan tensed, but the dog didn’t lunge. It sat in the fog, licking a paw. When the demon kicked at it, the dog yelped and scampered into the shadows.

     “I guess it’s up to me. Too bad, it’ll be much more painful my way. Which will it be, little girl? Move a coin, or die by a demon’s hand?”

     Lulan narrowed her eyes, but didn’t respond. What was he waiting for? Why didn’t he kill her? Something was going on, and she needed to it figure out.

     “Very well, you ugly toadstool! I’ll give you one concession. You get the first hit. Come on now!” The demon beckoned her. He approached at a slow and menacing pace. 

     Lulan stood her ground, not advancing or retreating. Whatever his game, she stood firm, resolved. She’d never leave Drel behind. Closing the gap between them, the demon could easily reach out and burn her with his touch. She didn’t lower her weapon or gaze. She waited for the attack that would end her life.

     The demon raised his clawed fingers above his head and unleashed a roar that shook the cavern. Dirt and debris fell from the ceiling. Lulan raised her staff to block his strike. No blow fell. The demon lowered his hands and frowned.

     Lulan lowered her staff. She finally understood.

     “What are you doing, you stupid pig?”

     “Well, since you asked, I’m leaving with my friend.” Lulan lit the end of her staff and tied it to her belt. She pulled Drel’s crystal prison around the demon.

     “Do not turn your back! I’ll kill you!” The demon came up behind her, so close she felt the heat from his breath on her neck.

     “Do what you must, as will I,” she replied.

     “Alright, so you’ve figured out the game.” The demon smiled and gentled his tone. “I can’t touch you first, true, but you can’t take my specimen.”

     “Oh, then I suppose you’ll stop me.”

     The demon narrowed his eyes. “He’ll die if he surfaces in the crystal.”

     Lulan paused and wiped her brow. “Or the crystal will recede and he’ll be free.”

     “Gods’ curse you, but you are a crafty thing. Can I not persuade you to leave him with me? I have much treasure.”

     “No.”

     “Immortality? We have it in our realm, you know.”

     “No, I will not leave him no matter the offer.”

     “I can grant you wishes. Anything you want, it will be yours!” The demon skipped beside her. She looked back and saw the dog curled up asleep in the mist.

     “What I want is to leave here, with my friend.”

     “Fine. Step aside. I’ll release him.” He climbed up on the crystal, and under his breath he muttered, “You can’t take him out like this.”

     “Oh, can’t you afford such an advertisement to your presence?”

     “What do you want, so I can be rid of you?” His speech, fast and abrupt, belayed his irritation. “You want him released. I’ll do it. You want the treasure, immortality, wishes? I will give it. Promise to leave and never return!” He frowned as red beads of sweat formed on his forehead between his horns.

     She noted the change in his posture. Perhaps she had more room to negotiate than she expected. “I’ll accept your help, but not for gold and immortality. Release your complete collection, then we will leave and never speak of this place.”

     “Humph! That is hardly possible!”

     “Than get off of my friend; we’re leaving.”

     “No, no. You don’t understand, my sweet dear. I’ve been collecting for many thousands of years. Most of the species don’t exist anymore, and can’t survive now. It would be murder to release them.” His face turned sympathetic as the beads dripped and fell onto the crystal, hissing.

     “Release all of the collection caught these last 300 years.”

     “Done!” The demon lifted his head and screamed as he jumped off Drel’s encasement. The noise echoed off the stone walls. “Now, get out!” He called his dog to him, and they went deeper into the system of caves.

     Tiny cracks crawled across the shard. The crystal shattered into grainy flecks.  

     “Don’t move.” Lulan swept pieces of glass off Drel’s face. He blinked and sat up. Though she tried to be careful, her fingers bled with tiny cuts.

     “What happened?” Drel wiped at the granules and shook them free of his clothing. 

     “Careful Drel, it’s sharp. It was a trap.”

     “A trap? But how could it fool the ammeral”

     “The demon must have set the trap on the mist or dirt under the coins. The coins weren’t the trap, but the movement beneath triggered the crystal encasement.”

     “Demon?”

     “I’ll tell you later. I secured the release of everything imprisoned in the crystal for the last three hundred years. Follow me. We’ll gather them up and leave.” She noticed Drel’s frown. “What?”

     “Not Helaque’s treasure.”

     She sighed, smiling. “No.”

     As they crossed the room, a little man carrying a ferret entered through the opening that led to the collection.

     “Elves,” he said.

     “Lumen,” Drel replied.

     “You were caught and held in crystal,” Lulan explained.

     “Are you the ones that freed me and the ferret? We should free the others.”

     “Only the two of you were released?” she asked.

     The lumen cocked his head to the side as he petted the baby kit in his arms. “Yes.”

     A wry smile rose on Lulan’s lips. The demon bested her after all. “Well, let’s go then. I bargained for those captured these last three hundred years, and here you are, the two of you.”

     “Three hundred years? What year is it?” the lumen asked.

     “927 new age,” Drel answered.

     “927? I’ve been asleep for 231 years!” The small lumen shook his head in disbelief. 

     “We are headed to Markar Jungle. Will you join us, at least until you get a handle on things, find your family? My name is Drel.”

     “Yes, I’d enjoy your company. I’m Tover.”

     “Tover? Like the hero from the war of the dark sky?” Drel followed Lulan and Tover through the cave.

     “Like him? I’m no hero, but I adventured during that time.”

     “Are you saying you are The Tover?” Drel asked.

     “I’m Tover Edelsteen, born 583.”

     “You are him.” Drel’s eyes shinned and his step lightened. He smiled and laughed.

     “Careful now,” Lulan advised, “Drel is a historian. He has written about you, and will plague you with questions.” She glanced back at Drel. “I mean he will interview you if you permit him.” She smiled and took the squirming ferret from his arms. It fell asleep as she held it close, like it cuddled against its mother.

     “I’ll answer anything you like. You’ve saved me from unending sleep. You’ve given me back my life.” Tover lifted goggles onto his eyes when the circle of daylight came closer.

     Drel clasped the pair around their shoulders as they exited the cave into the warm sunshine. “Looks like I’ve found a treasure after all, though not the one sought.”

References: Drel, Tover, Lulan, Elf, Lumen

 
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