Émilien frowned, thinking back to when he had first walked through the caves.When I converted these caverns, I knew there were a few hidden openings to lower levels, but not in that space. The others have strong spells on them to keep anything evil out. Gnome trolls are notoriously malicious, so how did they get past my defenses?
Not by themselves, I assure you. While these trolls are, indeed, spiteful, if their leader is able to convince them their object is justified, their behaviors turn defensive, exoneration, if you will, for some perceived slight or injustice.
Well, that’s not good. How injured are you?
My injury is of no concern. Right now, we must free you from the spell holding you.
Can you tell what it is? I’ve been unable to even sense a spell, so how do you know what’s holding me?
I am of the earth, Master, and sense even the most basic magic. For the coblynau, magic feels like the surge after a lightning strike. Depending on the spell’s condition, or command, if you will, the sensation turns murky with a stifling heaviness when darker magic is performed. Good magic is airy and light, like a cool breeze on a hot day. This is not that kind of magic. It is dark with an alimentation presence feeding it. I have experienced this before but can’t seem to place who wielded it.
A blast of energy hit the pads of his feet and, like a knife, cut upward and into his calves. His lungs seized, the air inside boiling as the pain turned to agony as it inched its way along his legs. If it reached his heart...
How do I stop them, Madoc?
Focus on your daughter, master. The only way to defeat darkness is with the oneemotionyou have the most difficulty showing—love. A word or warning, though, do not picture her. Onlyfocuson theemotionyou have for her in yourheart. Whoever is wielding this spell may be powerful enough to see her in your mind.
Émilien frowned, not liking how weak Madoc sounded, as if his energy was draining from his small body. He did as the caretaker said and focused wholly on the love he held in his heart for Shalendra, letting it fill his mind and body until he felt ready to explode. Instead of combusting, however, he pulled on the invisible anchors holding him to the cave floor. When his arms and legs flew upward, astonishment filled him. Once more, his small friend had his back.
He tightened his core and, using his leg muscles like a massive spring, jumped to his feet, automatically dropping into a fighting stance as the transparent creatures moved toward him en masse. With an earth-shaking roar, he launched himself forward, his long arms reaching out and dragging the small trolls as he tried to force them back into the cellar. All he accomplished, though, was to send them clamoring around him as they jumped over or climbed his arms, using his fur like a stepladder.
“Aaarrgh!” he yelled, wildly shaking his arms around him and over his head, trying to get the creatures off. Just as quickly as they flew away, they were back again, launching their rock-like bodies at him and scrambling for purchase. Several made it to his shoulders and, at least, two pulled themselves to the top of his wide head.
Hearing a slow, rhythmic chanting near each ear, he frantically shook his from head side to side, hoping to dislodge the creatures and interrupting whatever spell they were trying to perform.
A low growl came from the cellar, chilling him to the bone. Another entity entering this fight wasn’t what he needed right now, considering he was losing against the trolls.
The shape near his left eye shimmered, then two more coalesced, one in front of his face, hanging onto his lower jaw and pulling it down while the third shape punched him on the right side of his face. Several blinks later, three ugly gnome trolls appeared, their gruesome mouths widened, showing two rows of pointed teeth. Long noses hooked over their mouths, almost touching their upper lips, and each had glowing red eyes. Overly long arms hung halfway down their legs, which were bent and gnarled. It was their pea-green skin and the numerous bumps, like they had the worst case of teenage acne covering their bodies, that disgusted him.
He grabbed the two on either side of his head, their wizened faces glaring at him as he tossed them through the cellar doorway, hearing their bodiessplatagainst the back wall then their high-pitched squeals as they fell through the hole in the floor to the cave below, their grunts muted when they landed.
Fed up and angrier than he had been in a very long time, he threw back his head and howled. Snapping his massive jaws closed, the gnome troll’s pain-filled shriek filled the room as it fell to the floor. Émilien spit out the hands, the troll blood burning his mouth, which only fueled his fury.
He reached down, grabbing one of the trolls, and hurled it through the doorway, repeating the motion as fast as he could catch them. When he threw the last creature, the ominous growl sounded again, building in power and volume. Covering his ears didn’t help as agony assaulted his mind.
The searing pain was excruciating. His only thought was blinding, red rage—and to kill. He launched himself toward the massive shadow engulfing the doorway to the collar and rammed into something so hard, he felt as if he had plowed face-first into a stone wall. Luckily, the red haze covering his vision and filling his mind faded enough for him to think straight. Shaking his head, he hit the shadow again and again, each time the fury inside him receding until his thoughts turned more cohesive and forced himself to stop his attack.
The creature in front of him seemed to lessen, the black mass shrinking and, at the same time, eased away from him. “What are you?” Émilien demanded. “Why are you here?”
“I am death, guardian,” the monster said, its voice a menacing growl. “Beware, for your path is connected to one who is life to me and mine. I’m here as a warning. The search for your brother must not continue, for the one holding him is too powerful. Olivier is not meant to be found.”
Hearing the beast speak his brother’s name, Émilien frowned. “How do you know me or my brother?”
“I hear things not meant for others. You will not defeat the god behind this.”
“I will never stop looking for him. My brother is everything to me. I will not leave him—ever.”
“Then you will die.”
Émilien lunged toward the shadow but fell forward, hitting his head on the back wall of the small cave. Stumbling backward, one leg dropped through the hole in the floor, but he caught himself by grabbing onto the ladder. Momentarily resting his forehead on the top rung, he breathed away the remaining frustration, then pulled himself out of the hole.
“Madoc?” he called to the injured coblynau. When he didn’t hear a response, he hurried back to where he’d left him. The sight greeting him was horrific. His friend’s small body was covered with bloody lacerations. Hurrying over, Émilien scooped up Madoc and held him against his chest. His heart clenched, realizing just how much he cared for the little guy. They had been together for so long...
I’m...sor-ry,Madoc’s whispered in Émilien’s mind.
You have nothing to be sorry for. I will get you through this, my friend. I need you too much for you to die on me now.
A slight smile twitched the coblynau’s slightly blue lips. His thin face and hooked nose looked even more pinched with sharp angles, reminding Émilien of an Egyptian mummy.