As the two dragons followed her scent, a skittering sound brought out a snort of surprise from Daelyn. It was so close, he thought, stopping in mid-stride to try and catch the perpetrator in his sight. Baylor snorted and spun around after feeling a sharp tug on his tail but saw nothing, only the sound of something retreating. Daelyn reeled back in pain as a well aimed stone caught the end of his tender muzzle and bounced down onto the rocky ground near his feet. Snarling in a rage, he lunged forward at the unseen offender, ready to administer a sound thrashing. Turning around in confusion, he saw his father dealing with the same invisible adversary; snarling and turning to seek for the offender. Whatever it was, it was lightening fast or maybe even invisible, Daelyn thought.
“Father, what is this?” he asked as another painful rock struck his head, “I can’t see them!”
“I think they’re Forest Changlings,” Baylor answered, “Be careful, they can dangerous if there’s too many of them. Stay close, Dae, don’t let them separate us.”
Whispers, soft as the swaying grass, a chorus of sand-papery chattering no louder than butterfly wings that came from behind, above and in between the shadows. Brushes of soft hands on leathery scales made the dragons whip around to see only movement ducking behind trees as elusive as quicksilver.
“Father they’re everywhere!” Daelyn cried, “What do we do?”
“We play their game,” Baylor said, “They’re mischievous, not harmful, just full of the devil. Ignore them, they’ll tire of their games soon enough.”
Daelyn did just that, ignored the touches and whispers and even when they got angry, pinching and poking, he pretended they were no more annoying than a cloud of mosquitoes. Like his father said they would, they soon grew tired of not getting a response and left the two dragons to go about their business.
As the landscape inclined, soon they could see above the canopy of trees and the snow-capped Arrowhead mountains. The elders spoke of a cavern nearby called the Cave of Echoes. It was impossible to see from the air and most found it by accident. But all who ventured inside told of strange sounds and voices deep within that lured them even deeper until lost, they wandered within until hunger and fear made them give up and were never seen again. He hoped Starlyn didn’t find that particular cave and prayed she was safe.
Starlyn was jolted out of her slumber by an indeterminable sound. The wolves must have heard it as well, she thought, looking at their upright ears. As quietly as she could, she eased out of her position next to Anastas, careful not wake her new friend as she stepped over her. The sound was coming from a small passageway to the right, laughter like the tinkling of a thousand tiny bells seeming to come from deep within the cave. Lifting Gorvanal’s home made torch from the crack in the cave’s wall, Starlyn followed the sound.
Following the passage by the glowing yellow of the torch, she gasped with wonder as it opened up into a small cavern lined with Fluorite. The crystal, transparent until the torch light hit it, gave off a brilliant purple color that dazzled Starlyn’s eyes. Moving to the middle of the cavern, she spun around slowly, delighting in the way the colors shimmered and danced on the walls. The sound seemed louder in here, more defined, but it was coming from another, wider, passageway. Though reluctant to leave the beautiful cavern, Starlyn followed the musical sound deeper into the cave. Passing stalactites and stalagmites, so old they were almost tip to tip, she continued as the sighs, tinkling laughter and tiny voices led her on. As she walked through the second cavern lit by the light of the torch, she started feeling strange. The second cavern was by no means as beautiful as the first, in fact, it was rather frightening. When the torch light hit the walls, spiders darted back into the cracks. White, transparent creatures, they were large and all she could see after they hid, were their glowing eyes. Shuddering in disgust, she could feel the sadness seeping into her very bones as walked on to the next passage where the sounds of voices grew louder still.
“Where are you?” she called out, “Please show yourselves! I’m frightened!”
Giggles and lowered whispers mocked her. “Show yourselves….I’m frightened!..” they echoed.
She turned in confusion as the torch dimmed. The sounds were all around her and they didn’t sound as magical as when she first heard them. They teased, growled and mocked her, tiny, unseen hands tugging her hair or poking her. Ducking and swatting, Starlyn tried to fend them off until finally she’d had enough.
“Stop it this instant!” she yelled hotly, stamping her tiny foot, “I’ve done nothing to you!”
Everything stopped. The giggles, the growls and the tugging ended as if they never were.
“Instead of being rude and downright mean,” she told them, “How about introducing yourselves and so we can be friends!”
Without warning, Starlyn found herself toppled roughly to the floor of the cavern, crying in pain as her shoulders scraped the rock. She felt little hands binding her feet with some sort of rope and she didn’t even have time to kick out at them when they finished and she was unable to move. She let out one shrill scream when a dirty rag was stuffed in her mouth and the small hands carried her off into the darkness.
Anastas woke to what she thought was a scream. Sitting up quickly, she listened but heard nothing more. Turning to wake Starlyn, not only was she perplexed at the total darkness, but after feeling around for her friend, she quickly found her spot empty.
“Gorvanal!” she called out, “Wake up quickly! Starlyn is gone and so are the wolves and the torch!”
Startled by Anasta’s urgent shout, the troll opened his eyes to find himself in the dark. He quickly tore a strip of cloth from his shirt and telling Anastas to stay put, he headed for the dim moonlight at the entrance of the cave. Once out in open, he searched for a branch, preferably green, to use for a new torch. Finding a perfect one, he wrapped the strip of cloth around it, rolled it in pine pitch and used his flint stones to start it on fire. Smiling at his handy work, he hurried back into the cave and found Anastas huddling in the dark in fear.
“Come, little Atranoch,” he commanded, holding out his big hand, “Let’s go and find your friend.”
Baylor and Daelyn and landed on the rocky ground as graceful as two butterflies, soft and soundless.
“According to the legends,” Baylor told his son, “the cave’s entrance is very hard to see from the air, if not impossible. It should be around here somewhere, probably up higher.”
As they walked up the rocky slope, Daelyn thought about Starlyn. She was one of a kind, that human child. Not that he hadn’t seen human children before, just none of the likes of Starlyn. Most humans he’d ever come in contact with were greedy, quick to start wars and fearful of just about everything. If they were doubtful, they killed it. Even human children were rude and disrespectful, with the exception of Starlyn. He wondered what her human parents were like and surmised that they must have been extraordinary creatures to have brought forth such a unique and wonderful child. His heart skipped a beat as thought about where she could have wandered off to. Strange beings were said to reside in this cave and no one knew what they were or what they looked like. All he knew was that there would be hell to pay if one of them touched a single hair on Starlyn’s head.
“Father! Here it is!” Daelyn called, “I wouldn’t have even seen it if a hawk hadn’t landed on branch near the opening. There’s footsteps, too!”
Baylor hurried up the slope to investigate his son’s discovery of the cave, elated and wary at the same time. Would they find Starlyn and if they did, would she be in one piece? His big body shuddered with the thought. If the troll hurt her this would be his last day on the green earth, he thought, growling softly.
“Okay, let’s go in,” Baylor said, “But be very cautious. We have no clue what’s inside. Stay close to the wall and keep your ears open.”
Daelyn nodded, entering the cavern first. It was dark, but their eyes soon adjusted from years of cave dwelling. Inspecting the floor of the small, inner cavern, they saw many footprints. The larger, deeper prints of the troll, the clawed feet of the female Atranoch, wolf prints and those of a human child. What they noticed as they studied the prints, was that the troll and the Atranoch were together, following the footprints of Starlyn and the wolves. They saw where all had laid down, apparently to rest, then they headed into passageway. While it looked they were all traveling together, Baylor had the distinct feeling Starlyn was alone. They had to hurry.
© 2016, RissRyker518. All rights reserved.
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