Second Book of the Darkness Trilogy
by K Griffin © 1998
"To walk the Shadow Lands in corporeal form is to
cast a shadow where none should exist. Beware of those who also cast a
extract from the "Tenets of
An onlooker would have marvelled at the motley crew making its way through the deep tunnels, but there was no-one to see them. There were obvious similarities between the two little gnomes, pointed noses, sharp features and large feet encased in oversized, heavy boots. Unlike Miles, who scampered around, filling the silence with his unceasing chattering, Davron was a serious silent figure. There was a grace to him, that was accentuated by his choice of clothes. He wore a dark silk tunic, embroidered at the hem with a metallic thread that sparkled under the glow of the cavern floor. Ornately tooled leather straps, criss-crossed his chest. From one leather strap, hung a small leather satchel and from the other, a heavy spiked mace dangled menacingly. His voice had a magnetic quality that carried the words clearly, even when spoken softly. Ryrf had no difficulty hearing his soft words, when Davron quietly explained "We can make good time through this section, while we still have light."
Davron took the lead, setting a sure, fast pace. The same glow that had lit the traveller's room, now lit their way again. As they arrived at each branching of the tunnel, Davron would pause and poke at some hidden cavity in the wall of the tunnel and the floor of the chosen tunnel would slowly begin to glow with
a growing luminescence. Ryrf watched the sure movements of the little gnome with admiration. On the few occasions that Ryrf was forced to drop to all fours and crawl past a particularly low part of the roof, he noticed the heat emanating from the floor of the tunnel.
Time was hard to keep track of in this unchanging maze. Ryrf felt like he'd been following Davron for hours, when a halt was finally called. With a small gesture, Davron waved them into another rest chamber. His words seemed to carry a hidden meaning that Ryrf couldn't quite divine, yet all he said was "This is the last haven."
Ryrf bent almost double as he ducked into the hollowed out chamber. It was the exact duplicate of the one he had rested in previously and shelves again lined the far wall. Ryrf settled and watched with interest as Miles scampered over to the canisters. He accepted the proffered strips of dried meat that Miles retrieved from the first canister he opened. He chewed thoughtfully on the stringy dry strip and watched Miles pop other little
titbits into his sack. "Miles, how do you know what's in each canister? How do you know to avoid those sleep herbs?" he asked.
Miles looked at Ryrf curiously. "The only herbs in these canisters are for healing." he replied slowly. He pointed towards the canister in the far corner and said "See the lids, they are notched, the markings show food, drink and healing herbs. There is also a warning symbol, but none of these have it." He paused and added slowly, "but neither did any of the canisters at the last stop." A soft voice interrupted the conversation saying " "Shadowbane, young Miles. Shadowbane." They both turned to find Davron watching them closely.
Davron spoke slowly "He has to be a walker for the Shadowbane to affect him that way. You and I merely feel its healing powers, Miles, but its true purpose is to see beyond the plains, to see the fabric of the Dreaming itself." Davron paused and seemed to be thinking deeply, until with a shake of his head, he continued softly "You didn't tell me that he was a Shadowplains walker. This changes everything. He'll never survive this path." said the elegant little man, with a deep sigh. "The way into the castle is via the limbo lands of the Shadowplains. I've travelled through it many times, and they do not even notice me, but a walker will attract them."
Ryrf tingled at the mention of the Shadowplains. He'd been ignoring the empty feeling gnawing deep inside him. The feeling had been with him ever since he'd stepped out of the stone chimney into this maze of tunnels. To hear the little gnome talk of the plains, sent a shuddering wave of longing rolling through him, but he shook his head sadly and tried to explain "I'm not a walker down here. I can't walk again until I can reach the Lady and feel the silver beams of moonlight guiding me home."
Davron nodded and said "But you want to walk and that's what they will
recognise. The Shadowbane recognised you, and so will they."
Ryrf looked again at the elegant little man, then turned to Miles. "You said the Council wouldn't help us. You were right." he said with hint of bitterness in his voice. "Why are we wasting our time dwelling on defeat? If the Shadowbane is real, then it wasn't a dream. She needs our help more now than ever." He turned back to Davron and as much as the confined space would allow, he gave a courteous little bow and said "Your help in bringing us this far is appreciated, my lord Davron, so if you just tell us the path to take.."
Davron interrupted him with an angry little snort. His grace and elegance seemed to desert him as he stalked over to Ryrf. He punctuated his words with a bony little finger that poked Ryrf's chest as each word was spoken. "I am not a member of the Council. I am not a Lord and I am not giving up. I will guide you until you arrive or until you are dead, whichever comes first." His angry tirade paused for a moment, as he drew breath, but before Ryrf could get a word in, he continued, "and you will die in the limbo lands, unless you do exactly what I say."
Ryrf gave a rueful little chuckle and rubbed his chest as Davron swung around and stalked back to the other side of the little room. This room had a healing quality and the longer he sat on this warm glowing floor, the more he felt the strength return to his tired body. He was no longer the helpless emaciated traveller that Miles had revived with a few drops of water. He was Grir'Ryrf, Archon of Clan Wolf and he now spoke in formal tones "I spoke from the heart, Davron. I spoke without thinking. The Lady Chrys needs all the help we can muster. Tell me how to travel this path and I will survive."
Davron spoke slowly in reply, saying "I don't know yet."
The three travellers settled in for a serious discussion about the path ahead. Ryrf had heard stories of the limbo lands. They were a vague terror that was used in the early stages of the shadow training, to scare the students. The old teachers had spoken of the place in hushed tones, warning the young students of the consequences of failure. The ultimate failure resulted in a walker being banished to the limbo lands; lost and alone forever; never more to feel the cool healing light of the silver moons. Or so the stories had said. Few of the brash young students had really believed the old teachers.
Miles had heard stories of the deep tunnels but had never met anyone who had explored them, and returned. In his heart, he had believed that they were a myth, a legend of terror, to keep the young gnomes from wandering too deeply into the ancient tunnels. Now Davron was telling them both that their myths were one and the same, and more importantly, that they were real.
Ryrf related the old tale of warning to the two gnomes. He realised with a little amusement that his tone was hushed as he spoke. Mimicking those teachers of old, he whispered "A walker is lost to the limbo lands, when the connection with the Spirit Wolf is severed. To spend too long in the Shadow Plains causes the body to waste and eventually die as the link grows weaker and weaker. Since death is not possible for a corporeal body in the Shadow Plains, at the moment of death, the body is ripped from the plains and banished to the Limbo Lands. There, it is doomed to wander, a walking corpse, awaiting a death that can never happen." Ryrf looked up at the audience, his face solemn.
Miles gave a little shiver, before a hint of a smile twitched at the corner of the little gnome's mouth. Miles chuckled softly and said, "The old gnomish tales are better. First they recite the names of all those who have wandered into the limbo lands and never returned. Then somehow, although they say no-one has ever returned, they describe the horrors that dwell in the Limbo Lands. There are strange half creatures made from animals twisted and mixed with unwary travellers until neither is recognisable. 'Abominations' was the word that the story-tellers whispered. Abominations that hungered for fresh young gnome blood."
"They're all true." said Davron in an impatient tone. "I've been there. I've been there three times; once by accident when I was trapped by a giant rock lizard and was forced to flee into the ancient tunnels; once by design, when I led a party to map the safe path to the Dark Castle, and the last time, when I returned to try to save a companion who'd been lost there." Ryrf noticed the slight emphasis on the words "to try" and decided not to ask the outcome of that journey, but Miles was not so tactful. "Did you save him, Master Davron?" chimed in the irrepressible gnome. "No, she's lost there yet," came the quiet reply.
Silence followed that comment. The silence was finally broken by Davron. He spoke in a grim voice "But your Lady, we'll save Ryrf. Your revelation shocked me, but its not insurmountable. If you'll trust us to lead you through, then I think that a blindfold might solve the problem. Most of them can't touch you. They rely on images of terror, seduction or temptation or whatever might cause you to stray from the safe path. On the path, I have only found one that can touch us."
nodded and said "How long until you blind me then, Davron?"
tunnels, Grir'Ryrf. Two dark, musty, long tunnels before our pace slows
and we creep silently through the lands of children's nightmares. Perhaps you
are lucky that you will not see it." said Davron. For once, even
Miles was silent.
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