Captive of Darkness

Chapter 7

by Cassia

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    ~~"The blood of your House sealed our sleep and the blood of your House shall awaken us again,"~~ Dor-Gor intoned, his huge hand tightening around the knife-like shard. The cavern seemed to tremble with a breathless anticipation and a thin trickle of blood ran down the young elf’s neck as the sharp rock cut into his flesh. The instant it appeared, the stone beneath their feet rumbled ominously.
    Legolas was powerless to struggle against the arms that held him. Ice formed in his blood and circulated with every rapid beat of his heart. Closing his eyes, he tried to accept the inevitable.
    Suddenly, a flashing sword knocked the stone blade aside. Dagred and the other man were caught unawares and stumbled backward in surprise.
    Elrond stood protectively between Dor-Gor and the young elf prince. His turban was thrown aside and he stood tall and unafraid, no longer hiding his true identity. He had heard enough. He knew now the horror that Melèch was nursing to unleash upon the world, his disguise was no longer needed and he did not intend to let Legolas die, nor let his blood be used to waken the slumbering doom around them.
    "Stay back, creature of the ancient world!" Elrond warned darkly, holding his sword tightly and glaring at the beast. "You shall not have him."
    Dor-Gor shrieked in rage. The cave trembled. The process had already been started; it had to be completed or else he and all those like him who slumbered here would return to the dust from which they came, never more to stir.
    His heavy fist swung down towards the elf lord, but Elrond leaped easily aside, dodging the killing blow.
    Legolas scrambled to his feet and Elrond pulled the younger, wounded elf behind him. They backed warily away from Dor-Gor and the two guardsmen who had re-gathered from their momentary surprise and were now pressing in close.
    Melèch was shouting for his other soldiers and swearing, absolutely stunned at this sudden glitch in what had been a perfect plan. The fact that Esgal was in fact an elf and a spy not only shocked but angered him greatly.
    Dor-Gor moved with surprising speed for his bulk, placing himself between the two elves and the cavern mouth. He lashed out wildly, again and again, forcing Elrond and Legolas to retreat backward, farther into the cave.
    Dor-Gor felt the earth tremble beneath him and knew that his time ran short. He wanted the two elves dead, but he had not the time to pursue them. Legolas’ blood had started the process. Any blood would finish it.
    Turning abruptly, Dor-Gor slew Captain Dagred and the other guard in one quick move. The two guardsmen fell dead before they knew what had happened, their blood spilling across the rocky floor. Unuth, unlucky enough to be standing nearby, was next. It was not for nothing that these creatures had earned their foul and bloodthirsty names. Melèch did not realize the fire he was playing with, because the Gondrauko were completely ruthless and given to killing without compunction.
    "Dor-Gor!" Melèch shouted in rage. "What do you think you’re-"
    ~~"Doing?"~~ Dor-Gor rounded on the king with a wicked look in his eye, blood dripping off his hands. ~~"Finishing what I start."~~
    Legolas could feel the stirring in the cave around him and it took his breath away. Suddenly one of the menacing stone obelisks on their left shifted and expanded outward in a shower of stone and dust, like some horrible moth emerging from its granite cocoon.
    Another Gondrauko stepped out, blinking his eyes and looking around. Yet it did not seem disoriented, as one might expect after waking from so long a slumber. Somehow, the creature seemed to know exactly what was going on. Dark, dangerous eyes fixed upon the two elves.
    Another pillar exploded outward in a shower of sharp, choking debris, and another, and another. Elrond and Legolas blinked rapidly against the grit in the air, coughing as they drew back in the face of the overwhelming odds. Elrond tossed Legolas one of the long knives off his belt and the two elves stood back to back, ready for battle.
    Thick arms wielded even thicker stone clubs, forcing the elves to jump and scramble to avoid being smashed. Their weapons bounced uselessly off the thick stone hides of their assailants and dust choked them.
    Legolas aimed a quick, precise throw and his knife buried itself deeply in the soft flesh at the base of one of the attacking Gondrauko’s throat. The creature clutched its neck and fell to its knees with a loud cry. Falling forward onto its face, it simply crumbled into dust at their feet.
    The two elves had no time for wonder, because three other creatures were already upon them. Around them, more Gondrauko were awakening, filling the cavern with the din of their exploding rock cocoons. Legolas and Elrond knew they stood very little chance of ever making it out of this cave alive, but they were prepared to meet their ends bravely and make the best stand possible.
    Melèch looked around at the appearing creatures with horror. Not yet. This was not supposed to happen yet! "Dor-Gor! You told me you had to have the entire royal family’s blood..."
    Dor-Gor grinned condescendingly. ~~"Did I forget to tell you? Royal blood to start it... any blood can finish. I need more, Melèch! Bring in the rest of your men. I must finish this now!"~~
    Melèch’s lips pursed. He had been deceived. He was not ready for this awakening, and he greatly feared that once he had served his purpose, Dor-Gor would not honor their bargain. He was not ready for this yet... but he would have to make do.
    "Very well!" Melèch agreed, summoning the remainder of the unwitting men who were yet outside. "But first... a gift, my lord! I have a sample of the armor we spoke of, a gift for you as a token of our future together!" The king quickly procured the massive ring that Elrond had brought with.
    Dor-Gor laughed. ~~"*Our* future puny mortal king? I have no future with you. You have done all you are useful for. Do you really think *I*, with all the power that is at my command, intend to serve *you*? But, if your gift pleases me, and if you bring my blood to me swiftly, I will think about letting you live."
    Melèch bowed, scowling deeply, but holding onto his pretended calm. He passed up the armor ring to Dor-Gor and helped him fasten it firmly around his neck. As soon as it was in place, Melèch’s fake grin turned hard and mocking. "Beware of gifts from those you betray, Dor-Gor!" he hissed, moving away quickly.
    Dor-Gor’s eyes widened in shock. ~~"NO!"~~ he thundered in sheer fury, tearing at the collar around his neck. ~~"NO!!!!"~~
    "What’s the matter?" Melèch sneered. "Don’t you like the special ingredient I had built into your collar? Dust, from the hills of Edil, the dust from which you and your people came. As long as you wear that collar you are subject to the commands of the one who placed it upon you, to my commands. You will obey me whether you want to or not! Don’t bother trying to get it off. I have been assured that it is completely unbreakable."
    ~~"You betrayed me, Melèch!"~~ Dor-Gor roared, rising up to his full height and glowering down at the monarch.
    "One bad turn deserves another, Dor-Gor," Melèch said darkly, knowing the beast could not harm him personally so long as he wore that collar.
    Dor-Gor shrieked in hysterical fury and all hell broke loose. His minions turned on Melèch’s men and the two elves found themselves suddenly forgotten as their enemies fought one another. But the chaos did not have long to last.
    The awakening Gondraukos began to tremble and writhe, and suddenly one of them exploded into a rough, sharp cloud of dust, followed by another, and another. The pillars of un-roused creatures also shook and began to dissolve as their own magic worked against them. It was an effect that no one had anticipated.
    Vicious tremors shook the cavern, bringing down chunks of the ceiling and making stalactites fall like deadly daggers to the cave floor. Dor-Gor’s unfinished awakening was going sour as its time ran out and the earth trembled with the force of it.
    Elrond looked around, his face grim and streaked with dust and sweat. He could feel that this place was in its death throes. They had to leave and leave swiftly. Legolas, who had dropped to one knee in painful exhaustion, had much the same feeling. Elrond offered the younger elf a hand up and the two of them were just starting towards the cave mouth, when a huge section of the ceiling directly above them fell in.
    They threw themselves out of the way; falling apart from one another as the sharp shower of deadly debris rained down upon the two elves. At nearly the same moment, the entrance to the cave fell in with a horrendous boom, blocking out the light and plunging everyone into almost total darkness.
    The blackness was suffocating as the cave shook and trembled, collapsing upon itself amid the shrieking cries of men and Gondraukos. Somewhere in the din, Elrond could hear Melèch screaming something horrible and Dor-Gor bellowing as the maddened caws of Melèch’s hunting falcon added confusion to chaos.
    Elrond pushed himself to his knees, his head ringing. His long fingers found blood on his temple, where a falling stone had grazed him. "Legolas? Legolas!" he called his companion’s name, but the younger elf did not answer.
    The ground heaved beneath him, and a great crashing sound filled his ears. The elf lord glowed faintly in the darkness and, by his own light, he found Legolas’ still form. Parts of the ceiling had fallen upon the prince’s legs and chest. The elder elf tried to heave the chunks aside, but Legolas was wedged firmly and he could not budge the young prince by himself. Elrond felt worriedly for his companion’s pulse and was rewarded to find that Legolas still breathed. The same rocks that had trapped the prince had missed slaying him only because they landed upon other rocks, imprisoning, but not killing, the elf.
    "Legolas! Legolas, awaken!" the elf lord commanded, shaking the young prince gently, but urgently.
    Legolas moaned softly as he came back to consciousness, drawn more by Elrond’s command than by any physical reason. Every fiber of his body hurt and the darkness around them was frightening. When he realized he could not move, his fear heightened. Extreme claustrophobia ignited in the young elf’s heart and he struggled desperately with the rocks that held him down. His efforts only caused the stones to settle down harder, crushing more cruelly against his injured body. Legolas moaned in terrified pain, his head still cloudy and reeling.
    Elrond laid a gentle hand on the frightened prince’s forehead and Legolas saw the outline of the elf lord’s glowing form through blurred, stinging eyes.
    "Help me," Legolas’ lips formed the words without sound. His trapped lungs had no air for speech. He was suffocating.
    He need not have asked. Elrond was already pulling at the stones once more. They moved, but slowly. Too slowly. Taking Legolas under the armpits, Elrond attempted to pull him free. The prince twisted and tried to help, suppressing a cry of pain. Slowly, Legolas inched out from under the deadly tangle.
    The cavern shook ferociously and a great rending sound filled the air. The two elves choked on unseen dust. The trembling of the earth caused the debris to shift, and Legolas could not help crying out as the pressure on his legs intensified sharply with the settling of the rocks.
    Elrond squeezed the young elf’s shoulders tightly, encouragingly. "You’re almost free, Legolas, hold on." Even in the midst of all this ruin, the elder elf’s voice was surprisingly calm and reassuring.
    Another violent tremor seized the place and more debris rained down upon them. Elrond dropped to one knee, putting his hand over his head and crouching over Legolas’ head and shoulders, shielding the younger elf from further injury with his own body.
    There was more light suddenly and they could just see that the latest cave-in had opened a hole in the ceiling that must communicate with the outside.
    Elrond renewed his efforts to free his companion, but Legolas shook his head quickly. "Go!" he rasped urgently. "In moments it will be too late!"
    Elrond did not respond, but with one more tug, he got Legolas free. Half-supporting the younger elf, the elf lord rose. Together they made their way swiftly towards the jagged fissure that had opened barely three feet above their heads. They could not see the open air, but they could smell it, and they could see the light filtering down. It was their only way out and their only chance. They had to take it.
    "Can you make it?" Elrond inquired quickly, having to shout above the rending shriek of the dying cave around them.
    Legolas nodded, pulling free of Elrond’s supportive hold, despite the pain it caused him.
    Quickly shedding the cumbersome velvet outer-robes that would impede his movement, the elder elf jumped nimbly up and caught hold of the stone lip, pulling himself up. Bracing himself in the narrow, twisting fissure, Elrond reached down, offering Legolas a hand up.
    Legolas was dizzy and unsteady. Everything that had happened to him in the past few hours had been entirely too much for his body to handle, elven-strong though it was. He caught hold of Elrond’s hands and somehow managed to clamber up into the fissure, but his vision blurred double and his head throbbed in time with his over-rapid breathing.
    Quickly, the two elves scrambled upward, half climbing, half struggling their way up through the narrow, almost vertical shaft. Both of them were painfully aware that the fissure could close or fall in at any moment, crushing them to death inside it.
    The chains that still connected Legolas’ limbs impeded his already difficult movements.
    After several unbearably long and claustrophobic moments of desperate scrabbling, the two beings found themselves scrambling up, out of the fissure and into the glaringly bright, but blissfully open air of the mid-autumn day.
    They still were not safe, for the earth trembled under their feet and, not far from them, the ground opened up with a rumbling roar as it collapsed in upon the cavern below. Elrond grabbed Legolas’ arm and half guided, half dragged the reeling younger elf to safety.
    They reached solid ground not a moment too soon, for the entire hill came down upon itself in a jumble of ruin, forever sealing the graves of those buried beneath.
    Melèch, Elnon, Unuth, Dor-Gor... their own greedy scheming and lust for power had destroyed them all, just as Legolas had said it would. Those who sought evil usually found it, and it became their undoing.
    Elrond spared a backward glance and shook his head, leaning slightly against the thick trunk of the tree beside him as he caught his breath after their narrow escape.
    Legolas also leaned against the tree, the world wavering about him. The wave of relief and loss of adrenaline as he began to realize that they really were safe now was almost too much for his injured body to handle. His knees buckled, refusing to hold him any longer.
    Elrond turned quickly and caught the prince, lowering the younger elf gently to the ground.
    Legolas’ eyes were glazed with pain and his pupils dilated far too wide for the brightness of the afternoon sun. Blood, sweat and dust clung to his fair face and his chest heaved unevenly. Elrond knew his young friend was in a great deal of trouble.
    Sliding his fingers underneath Legolas’ iron collar in an attempt to better feel the young elf’s pulse, Elrond scowled at the ugly chains that still held the injured prince. He wished he could remove them, but the manacles had been welded closed upon Legolas’ limbs and it would take a metalsmith to unfasten them.
    Legolas’ pulse was weak and thready and much too fast. Elrond’s fingers came away bloody.
    Quickly opening the front of the younger elf’s soiled, torn tunic, Elrond moved the chains aside, running his hand lightly over the prince’s chest, checking for broken ribs or any other possibly serious injuries from the cave-in Legolas had been trapped under.
    Legolas fixed frightened, pain-filled eyes on the elf lord as Elrond examined him; unable to help his body’s terrified reaction to its own helplessness and the painfully fresh memories of what other hands had done to him not very long ago.
    Elrond stopped suddenly when he caught the look in the young elf’s eyes and realized that Legolas did not tremble under his touch out of pain only. The young prince had been hurt. Horribly so. It would take him time to get over the pain, physically and mentally.
    Elrond pulled back slightly. "You do not have to fear me, young one," he whispered soothingly in their native tongue. "I wish to help only. I will not hurt you. You have my word."
    "I-I know y-you won’t..." Legolas whispered with effort, and he did mean it. He knew the elf lord meant him no harm, he simply did not have the strength to harness his body’s reaction. The world turned first yellow and then black before his eyes and it seemed that he heard Elrond’s voice coming to him from a great distance away, through a long tunnel.
    "Be strong, young one... you are free. Do not let go now..."
    Legolas’ head rolled to the side as consciousness fled. Elrond tried to bring him around, but thought better of it. Scooping the elven boy up in his arms, the elder elf displayed the unusual strength of his kind. He had to get the young prince to some place where he could care for him, and soon, or it would be too late.

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