The Dragons of Ice and Snow (5 page)

BOOK: The Dragons of Ice and Snow
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The floor was clean stone
and the walls were covered with thin sheets of ice and jagged patches
of frost. Thick plumes of steam rose as he breathed and Simon hugged
himself as he began to shiver.


It's great, Kronk.
I just wish it was a bit warmer.”

The little guy's smile
faded to a look of concern.


I'm sorry, master.
The cave leads downward. Eventually it meets the tunnels of the
dwarves and warms up. But that will take many hours to reach. It is
miles away.”


Yeah, so I
thought.”


I will return to
the entrance to guide Aeris, master,” Kronk said. “Don't
stand still or you will get cold again.”

With that admonition, the
little guy smiled encouragingly and disappeared into the small
tunnel.


Good advice,”
the wizard said to himself.

So while he waited for
Aeris, Simon kept moving, walking back and forth, hopping a bit,
swinging his arms, anything to keep warm. The problem was that he was
so tired and sore, he knew that he couldn't keep it up. Either Aeris
would find some fuel or he would have to try to reach the deep roads
of the dwarves. He doubted that he would make it before he collapsed.

He didn't know how long he
waited, alone in the frigid cave and sinking ever deeper into
despair, before he heard a scuffling sound from the small tunnel. He
turned hopefully toward it, his floating globe of light following
over his head.

Kronk popped out of the
opening dragging a bundle of branches. Behind him, Aeris floated low
to the ground, another bunch of twigs and driftwood in his arms.


You found some,”
Simon said with a sagging sense of relief.

Maybe I'm not going to
die, not right now anyway, he thought, feeling a little giddy.


I did,” Aeris
said with a small satisfied grin. “There was a lot of wood
covered by snow along the shore. Probably left there by the current
during warmer weather.” He turned serious. “You don't
look so good, my dear wizard. But before you start a fire, we have to
go deeper into the cave.”


Deeper? Why?”


We saw distant
shapes flying low over the lake, master,” Kronk told him.
“That's why we didn't get any more fuel. The dragons are coming
in this direction.”

He began walking down the
gentle slope that led deeper into the cave and Simon and Aeris
followed.


Dragons?” The
wizard felt a chill that had nothing to do with the temperature.
“More than one?”


More than one, my
dear wizard,” Aeris told him. “That first dragon must
have summoned some of its mates. Killing their fellow dragon has to
have enraged them. So let's get some distance between us before you
start a fire, shall we?”


Right.”

Simon wasn't sure how far
he could walk. His legs were as limp and wobbly as cooked spaghetti
and the bump on his head was throbbing in time with his heartbeat.

They followed the little
earthen further into the cave. As they moved, the area began to
narrow, the walls approaching from either side. The ceiling began to
lower as well and Simon started to feel a little claustrophobic.


Are you sure this
is leading us anywhere?” he asked loudly. His voice echoed
around them.


Yes master, I'm
sure,” Kronk said. He could barely be seen up ahead, his little
rocky form blending with his surroundings. “But watch out. The
ceiling is getting lower.”


Yeah, no kidding,”
Simon said tiredly as he ducked his head. He was afraid that he'd
have to start crawling on all fours again.

Luckily they reached the
end of the cave soon after and another opening led steeply downward.
The ceiling was higher, but the walls narrowed so much that Simon was
forced to squeeze himself through it sideways for about twenty paces.

I guess being skinny does
have its advantages, he thought with a touch of amusement.

He heard Kronk up ahead,
dragging his bundle of branches and Aeris behind, scraping his
against the walls as he followed. His light globe bobbed along
faithfully over his head.

The tunnel twisted and
turned and finally ended abruptly.

Simon entered another
cave, this one much larger than the first. A high ceiling and distant
walls made him feel as if he'd just stepped into an underground
cathedral.

He walked forward a few
steps and met Kronk, who was making a pile out of his dry branches.


We are almost a
hundred feet under the earth here, master,” the little guy told
him. He reached down and patted the smooth, black floor. “The
ground is not as cold here, so you can sit and rest once you have
started a fire.”

Aeris floated past the
wizard and dumped his load to one side.


Start Kronk's pile
first and I'll add pieces as it burns down,” he told Simon, who
nodded.


Sounds good.”

Simon lowered himself
painfully, joints audibly creaking, and sighed with pleasure once he
was sitting. He took off his gloves and touched the floor. Kronk was
right. It wasn't exactly warm, but it wasn't freezing cold either. It
was simply cool.

He focused on the pile of
sticks and small pieces of wood and saw fire blaze in his mind. The
dried wood ignited with a whoosh and a burst of heat flowed over
Simon, making him feel as if he'd just slipped into a warm bath. He
almost moaned aloud with pleasure.

For a few minutes, the
wizard just sat with his eyes closed and basked in the warmth. He
never knew that a fire could give him such simple happiness and
comfort.

He could feel his body
thawing out, one muscle, one joint at a time. As the fire burned,
Aeris would carefully add a piece of wood to keep it going. The
steady heat was definitely what Simon had needed.

When he felt warm enough,
the wizard slipped off his boots and massaged his feet, finally
regaining the feeling in his toes. Then he put them as close to the
fire as he could and smiled weakly at the elementals.


Thanks, guys,”
he said. “You've saved my life, again. I don't think I could
have gone on much longer.”


You're welcome, my
dear wizard,” Aeris replied. “But we aren't done yet.
Those dragons could be above us right now. The wood is almost all
gone and we have to keep moving. If Kronk is correct, we can reach
the deep roads in a few hours. At least down there it will be warmer
and you can get some rest.”

The idea of sleep was very
appealing to Simon, but he knew the air elemental was right. The fire
was dying and they were still in great danger.

He slipped on his boots,
pushed himself to his feet and stretched to loosen up his stiff
muscles.


Okay then. Let's
get to it. I feel better now and waiting around here for those damned
monsters to sniff us out would be stupid.”

He slipped his gloves on
and looked at Kronk.


Can you take the
lead again?”


Of course, master.
We can walk more normally now. The tunnel that leads from this cave
slopes downward gently and you won't have to crawl again.”

He turned away and
tip-tapped off into the darkness. Simon and Aeris exchanged a nod and
the wizard followed the little earthen, his light floating along
above him.

For the next few hours,
Simon and the elementals descended deeper and deeper into the bowels
of the world. One tunnel led to another and the only thing that kept
the wizard moving his exhausted body forward was the danger from
behind and the fact that there was no more wood to use for a fire.
The air was still cold, although not freezing, and Simon knew that if
he stopped and tried to rest, he would still be risking hypothermia.

There were occasional
barriers to overcome. One tunnel had collapsed and the wizard had to
squirm and claw his way through the rubble, Kronk and Aeris helping
as much as they could.

In one small cave, there
was a six-foot wide chasm that cut across the middle, leading down
into the depths. Simon kicked a small stone into the gap and listened
for a count of ten before he heard it hit bottom. It took him some
time to screw up the courage to leap across it.

Kronk made the jump with
ease, and Aeris casually floated over the drop.

How long it took them to
reach the dwarven roads, Simon never knew. But at last, Kronk
scurried ahead and his voice echoed back, tinged with excitement.


We're here,
master!” he shouted. “We've reached a dwarf tunnel!”

Simon, who'd been lost in
a haze of exhaustion and was plodding along like a robot, lifted his
head and stumbled to a halt.


Did he just
say...?” he asked Aeris, who floated forward to hover next to
him.

The air elemental grinned
widely.


He did, indeed. We
made it. Can't you feel the warmth in the air?”

It took Aeris to point it
out, but Simon realized that he hadn't been cold for some time. He
slipped off his gloves and wiped his upper lip.


You're right,”
he said in weak amazement. “It's actually warm. Holy crap.”

A rush of excited strength
allowed the wizard to move forward. He was still sore and tired, but
a tiny glimmer of hope had now been lit inside of him.

They emerged into a
massive tunnel. Very similar to the deep roads that Simon had
explored months before, the tunnel was at least thirty feet wide and
forty high. The walls were smooth and flat with small engravings and
chiseled dwarven writing that he couldn't read.

Like those other tunnels,
this one seemed ancient. Ruts had been cut into the surface of the
road from centuries of traffic. There were pebbles and small stones
scattered across the ground, fallen from the ceiling over years of
the Earth's subterranean shifts and quakes.

Kronk stood in the middle
of the road. He had cleared away a space on the road and gestured for
Simon to join him.


You can sit here,
master,” the little earthen said. “The rock is warm and I
think that we are as safe as we are going to be until we return
home.”

Simon took off his coat
and spread it out on the floor. Then he sat down on it with an
exhausted sigh and stretched out his legs. His light hovered over him
and he made a gesture at it so that it rose up about halfway to the
ceiling, lighting the entire section of tunnel.


Return home?”

The wizard shook his head
and lay back on his thick coat. Just being off his feet was a huge
relief.


I don't know how
we're supposed to do that, guys,” he said, closing his eyes.
“We're on the other side of the world. I have no food, no
water, no spells. Dragons are hunting us. I can't think of a more
desperate situation.”


Try sleeping on it,
my dear wizard,” Aeris said in a unusually gentle tone. “Kronk
and I will keep watch. Get your strength back and we'll figure
something out.”


Yeah, right. Figure
something out.”

Simon drifted off to sleep
at this absurd expression of confidence, too tired to argue anymore.

Chapter
3

When he woke up, Simon
found himself lying in semi-darkness. There were dimly-glowing
dwarven runes set every few paces along the tunnel walls but they
illuminated very little. Obviously his Light spell had faded away
while he was sleeping.

He cast a new one and sent
the bright globe up to float about ten feet over his head.

There was no sign of the
elementals and Simon went back into the narrow tunnel that had led
them here and relieved his bladder. Then he returned to the main
tunnel, grabbed his coat and listened intently for any sign of his
little friends.

The quiet was absolute.
There were no sounds of dripping water or creaking stone, and he
heard nothing from either Kronk or Aeris.

Simon was reluctant to
break the eerie silence by calling out to the elementals, so he
turned to his left where the tunnel sloped gently downward, and began
walking, careful to step over the bigger pieces of scattered debris
along the way. His light trailed along above him.

A few dozen paces down the
tunnel and the wizard reached a t-junction. The road split in half;
to the right it dropped swiftly into darkness, while to the left it
continued to slope downward, but at a more gentle angle.

Simon stared at the wall
between the two roads and saw several lines of blocky, dwarven script
cut into the stone. He was baffled by their meaning, but assumed that
they were directions of some kind. A street sign, perhaps.

As he mulled over the
indecipherable language, it occurred to the wizard just how weird it
was that he could actually speak to the dwarves, and the elves for
that matter, and understand their language, but couldn't read it.

How does that even work,
he wondered. And why is it only now, alone in the depths of the
world, that it strikes me as odd?

BOOK: The Dragons of Ice and Snow
11.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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