The Dragons of Ice and Snow (6 page)

BOOK: The Dragons of Ice and Snow
6.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

He laughed a bit at
himself and then stood there, arms folded around his coat, and tried
to decide which way to go.

Well, I can't take a
chance that I'll guess wrong, he thought. Like it or not, I'll have
to try calling them.

Simon took a deep breath
and then broke into a coughing fit as Aeris shot out of the steep
tunnel to his right and slammed into his stomach, almost knocking him
over.


Gees, Aeris! What's
wrong with you?” he finally managed to wheeze out as he caught
his breath.


Sorry about that,”
Aeris said as he bobbed up and down in front of the wizard. “It
looked like you were about to call out and I couldn't risk that.”

Taking a few more deep
breaths, Simon glared at the elemental.


Risk it? Risk
what?”


I don't know.”
The elemental looked around and seemed to shiver. “I don't
trust this place. Anything could be out there. So I stopped you from
yelling, just in case.”


Okay, I guess that
makes sense.” Simon rubbed his stomach gingerly. “So
where have you been? And where's Kronk?”


Kronk's scouting.”

At Simon's look of
surprise, Aeris shrugged.


Yes, I know that's
usually my job, but this is his natural environment. He can travel
faster inside the stone than on top of it, and he can't be seen by
others while he's doing it.”

Simon tossed his coat to
the ground and sat down on it. He hugged his knees and watched Aeris
intently.


That's logical, I
suppose. But what is he scouting
for
?”


You will need water
soon, my dear wizard. If we were outside, you could simply melt some
snow. But down here, water is precious and rare and, as a living
creature, you won't last long without it. I know that humans can live
for many days without food if they must, but water? It is essential.”

As the elemental spoke,
Simon realized that his lips were a bit cracked and his throat was
sandpaper dry. He swallowed painfully.


Thanks, I
appreciate that.”


Part of our jobs as
your servants,” Aeris said with an exaggerated bow.


Stop that,”
Simon said with a light laugh and the elemental grinned at him.


While you were
sleeping, Kronk went off on his search and I back-tracked, checking
to see if we were being followed. Fortunately there was no sign of
any enemies back there, so I think we're safe, at least from that
direction.”


Followed by whom?
The dragons?”

Aeris snorted.


Hardly. If they
were going to try to dig down here after you, we'd likely hear them
from miles away. No, I've been thinking about our 'friend', the
paladin and what her part in this whole thing was.”


Liliana?
You think she betrayed us? Why?”


Have
you forgotten your old neighbor, Heather? She made a deal with the
primal green and was granted power by its masters, the dark gods.
Perhaps this woman did the same.”

Simon
rested his chin on his knees, eyes closing for a moment.


I
don't want to believe that, Aeris. I really don't. Like you, I've
thought about her since we were attacked. Personally, I think that
her offer of a meeting was genuine and that she was chased off by a
patrolling dragon. It probably swept around the area and spotted us
when we Gated in.”

Aeris
looked skeptical.


Perhaps,”
he said. “I hope you're right. We are short on allies, and our
enemies seem to grow by the day.”

The
wizard's reply was cut off by a soft, distant sound.

He
cocked his head to the side and Aeris copied him. They both frowned
in concentration.

It
was a quiet rumbling sound, slowly building up as it approached.

Oh
crap, Simon thought. Not an earthquake. Not now!

But
the air elemental's eyes widened and he smiled.


I'd
know that sound anywhere, my dear wizard. Kronk's on his way back.”

Simon
scrambled to his feet and picked up his coat.


Really?
Is that what he sounds like when he travels underground? Cool. I
never knew that.”


It's
the sound he makes when he's not worried about being heard. I assume
that means that we're safe, at least for now.”

A
minute later, the little earthen popped up from the road near Simon,
leaving a small hole in the rocky floor.


Hello,
master. Did you sleep well?” he asked brightly.


Hey
Kronk. Fine, thanks. Aeris said you were scouting?”

The
little guy nodded vigorously.


Yes
master, I was. And I have some encouraging news.”

Aeris
lowered himself to hover just above the ground and stared at Kronk.


Encouraging
news? Good, we could use some.”

The
earth elemental smiled slightly at Aeris and looked up at Simon.


If
you follow that road there, the steep path, you will eventually come
to a...I don't know what to call it. A niche? A way-station,
perhaps?” He shrugged. “There is a small chamber off the
main road. The dwarves dug a well there. It is ancient, but the water
is good. I made sure of that.”

Simon
perked up.


Excellent
news, my friend. How far?”


I'm
afraid it is a long way, master. Many miles. If we move at a steady
pace, it will take perhaps four hours to get there.”

The
wizard groaned softly. Four hours? Gees.


But
I have some other news that might make the trip more bearable,
master,” Kronk said brightly. “I found some signs of
recent activity. I believe that the dwarves passed through that area
not too long ago.”

Simon
looked at the earthen in surprise.


Really?
But I thought that they didn't use these roads anymore? Now that the
magic is back and they can travel in their drilling machines, haven't
they ignored these tunnels?”

Kronk
looked a little mystified.


So
I thought as well, master. But I found a fire-pit near that well that
had ashes in it. The ashes were no more than a few days old. Perhaps
the dwarves used it to burn some trash. I do not know. But if they
did pass by there, they may again.”


Hmm.
Well, it may have been a one-time thing, but it's a positive sign
anyway.”

Simon
shrugged into his coat, leaving it open in the warm air.


Well,
a long walk or not, I definitely am going to need water soon, so
let's get to it. Lead the way, Kronk.”


Yes
master. Follow me.”

The
earthen tip-tapped away, easily negotiating the steeply sloping
tunnel. Simon followed as best he could, careful to avoid any rubble
that would make him slip and land on the hard ground. His globe of
light followed along dutifully, illuminating the way. Aeris brought
up the rear.

The journey was indeed a
long one. Kronk kept up a steady, but not too fast, pace and Simon
stopped every hour or so to rest. He was thirsty, but he didn't want
to exhaust himself, so he made sure to take his time and conserve his
strength.

The tunnels were quiet and
became boring very quickly. An occasional engraving would catch
Simon's eye, the legacy of some long-forgotten dwarf. Some were quite
beautiful. For the most part though, traveling the road was simply
dull and the wizard had to grit his teeth and think of the water
source ahead to keep himself moving forward.

After several hours, Kronk
called back and reported that the location of the well was just up
ahead.

Simon, who had been
tromping along staring blankly at the ground beneath his feet, looked
up in surprise. He shook his head to clear it and then increased his
pace, encouraged by the earthen's announcement.

The alcove was off to the
right of the tunnel they were following. Perhaps thirty feet square,
it consisted of a hole in the floor rimmed with a foot-high lip of
rock. A chain hung down into the black hole from a metal rod across
the opening, with a crank on one side.

Simon took off his coat
with relief, it had become hotter as they'd traveled deeper along the
tunnels, and tossed it on the ground next to the well. He knelt down
on it and began to turn the crank. He felt as dry as sand and eagerly
looked forward to some relief of his thirst.

The chain tinkled and
clinked as he turned the handle of the crank and it seemed to take
forever to draw up some water.


Deep well, master,”
Kronk said, stating the obvious, and Aeris rolled his eyes. Simon
just nodded and kept cranking.

Finally, a bucket made of
some dull metal appeared at the end of the chain and Aeris flew over
to it and carried it out of the well to set it down beside the
wizard.

Simon wiped his grimy
hands on his robe and reached for the bucket. He hesitated and looked
at Kronk.


Are you sure it's
safe?” he asked.


Oh yes, master. I
can sense any impurities in water that is beneath the earth. It is
clean. You may drink it without harm.”

Reassured, the wizard gave
Kronk a grateful smile and began drinking handful after handful of
water.

Nothing had ever seemed so
delicious. The water was cool but not cold and was free of any
mineral taste. To Simon's parched throat, it tasted better than the
finest wine.


Easy there, my dear
wizard,” Aeris cautioned. “You haven't had anything to
drink for quite some time. If you overdo it, it may all come back up
again.”

Simon paused and looked at
him. Then he sat back with a relieved sigh.


You're right. I'll
take my time.”

He cleared his throat and
swallowed, pleased that it didn't feel like his mouth was full of
dust anymore.

After he'd slowly drunk
his fill, Simon retrieved another bucket of water from the well and
clumsily splashed it over his head and face, trying to wash away some
of the road dirt. He was sorry that he didn't have a rag or towel so
that he could do a proper job and ended up spraying the excess water
across the room as he whipped his long hair from side to side. Then
he pushed it back off of his face, stood up slowly and looked around
the chamber.


Where's the
fire-pit you mentioned, Kronk?”

The little guy skittered
across the room to a far corner.


Here, master.”

Simon walked over and
gestured at his globe of light. It descended and hovered over his
shoulder as he examined the remains of a fire.


You see, master?
The ashes are still delicate, the soot still light and easily wiped
away. It was left recently.”

Aeris flew over and looked
at the pit.


Are you sure?”
he asked Kronk skeptically. “Ashes are just ashes, aren't
they?”


To some, perhaps,”
the little guy said in a slightly superior tone of voice. Simon did
his best not to smile. “But to me, it is obvious. This fire was
set no more than two weeks past.”

Simon waved at his light
and it returned to hover several feet over his head. He gave the
ashes a final look and made his way out into the tunnel again,
picking up his coat as he went.


So now what, guys?”
he asked the elementals. “The dwarves may be using this tunnel
for whatever reason, but I can't wait around for weeks on the off
chance that they will be back this way.”

Kronk and Aeris looked at
each other and then back at Simon.


I'm at a bit of a
loss, to be honest,” Aeris said reluctantly. “I suppose
we could try to reach one of the dwarven strongholds but that trip
might take days. We have no way to carry water with us, and you, my
dear wizard, will become weaker the longer you go without food.”


Yeah, I know.
Kronk? Any ideas?”

The little guy was
frowning as he stared at the floor. Simon watched him, recognizing
the earthen's expression. He wasn't a fast thinker, but Kronk
was
a deep thinker and the wizard knew better than to try to rush him.

When
Aeris began to speak, Simon gestured for him to wait and the air
elemental became silent and waited impatiently.

Kronk
finally looked up at the wizard and began to speak slowly.


Master,
what you really need now is a copy of your Gate spell, yes?”


Err,
yeah. That would really save our necks for sure.”

BOOK: The Dragons of Ice and Snow
6.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

A Death in the Family by Caroline Dunford
The Inn by William Patterson
The Gladiator by Carla Capshaw
Reforming the Bear by Vanessa Devereaux
The Seduced by Donna Grant
Starting Over by Cathy Hopkins
Fen by Daisy Johnson
The Runaway Wife by Elizabeth Birkelund