A feeling of deja-vu on a new season spells trouble. Fanfic, by Emily Evans.
In the sixteenth season, the dungeons shifted beyond all limits. Usually, a lot of major things were changed, but this year, it became unlike anything anyone had ever seen before. It used to take the dungeon dwellers no more than a week to settle in their new habitats, but the abstract of it all shocked them out of their usual stride. By the frequent usage of the words 'used to', 'usually' and 'usual', one would be right in assuming that the new dungeons were anything but these, and subsequently, very UNusual.
The dungeons were exactly the same as the season before. There was no change, according to the naked eye. Treguard made the mistake of assuming the dungeons had just decided not to reform, and did not look into it. He regretted this more than anything as the phase shifts wore on.
You watchers don't have a clue what happened, do you? No - this was kept out of the logs, and all involved were sworn to secrecy, except me. I never swear to anything.
Would you like to hear about it?
I thought so.
Let's go back to the beginning...
"She's been here a year!"
"We all make mistakes, Pickle. Even you."
Pickle gaped at Treguard in disbelief. "Master! When in the Underworld did I ever do anything like this!"
He pointed at the Helmet of Justice. One of its horns was bent into an 'S' shape, and Kully was kneeling beside it trying to bend it back into place with her bare hands. Treguard suppressed a laugh and addressed her sternly.
"You won't repair it like that, elf - not as you managed to cause that little mishap with magic. Unless you have a counter spell it's stuck."
"I can't remember it. Anyway - I can't see the problem...I got the horn stuck back on, didn't I?"
Pickle looked ready to bang his head against the wall. "You're lucky those horns don't actually have a use, other than looking daft."
"Stop bickering and stand aside. Time for a new season!" The elves moved out of the way and let the Dungeonmaster bring in the first Dungeoneer.
A young boy appeared, standing on the small wooden platform before them. Kully asked for his name, age and direction so Pickle could write it in the book.
"I'm Michael, I'm 15 and I'm from Kent."
"And your advisors?"
Michael called his friends and three more boys appeared in front of them. Scott and Alex were 15, and Oliver was 14 and a lot shorter than them. The boys grinned at each other and looked at Treguard expectantly. He didn't keep them waiting.
"The knapsack, Kully. Pickle...you take the helmet, as I want it in as good a condition as possible."
"With pleasure, Master." Pickle eyed the confused horn with distaste. He always did like the old ways - he couldn't stand change in anything. Kully was too busy staring at Michael's shoes as she placed the knapsack around his shoulders. She had always wanted a pair of shoes of her own.
Neither of them listened as Treguard gave the old speech to the new team - they had heard it so many times they knew it off by heart. They looked up as he brought it to an end, but pricked up their pointed ears as he added a last piece of advice.
"...and remember, most things are an illusion, but these can be as dangerous as reality."
"What's that supposed to mean?" whispered Kully to Pickle. He shrugged and went back to updating the logbook.
"You're in a room, and it's green and long. It looks familiar..."
"Wasn't this in last year's dungeons?" Scott interrupted Alex, and he looked closer.
"You're right - this was the first room from last year!" They all looked round at Treguard, who was squinting at the screen and muttering under his breath.
"No change...not even a brick out of place. Same colour, same atmosphere...but, how strange. Something is different." He leant back and spoke to the boys. "Well...guide him on, team. I would never advise lingering in a place for too long, however familiar." He fell silent, but Pickle saw that he appeared to be contemplating. He looked at Kully to see if she had noticed this as well, but she was practising her 'Repair' spells on some broken crockery.
"Walk forwards, Mike." Mike did as he was told and bumped into a long wooden table with moss growing up the legs. He put his hand down on the surface and felt something cold and sticky.
"What is it?" asked Oliver. They watched as Mike inspected his hand.
"It's mould! Mouldy food - I think it smells like it was fruit at some point, but it's gone off."
Treguard's mouth was hanging open slightly as he pondered. Hadn't fruit been the first thing found on the table in the last season? An apple? Why was the same thing still there? Suddenly Kully jumped up.
"Master - look at the room!"
Treguard looked. It didn't appear to be doing anything.
"Look closer! What do you see that's wrong with it?"
"I know there's something wrong, but I can't put my finger on it! What do you know that I don't, elf?"
"I think...but I can't be sure..."
Mike disappeared through the doorway at that moment at the order of his advisors, and Kully's dismissed her thoughts. "No...it doesn't matter. It wasn't important."
Treguard thought that by the way Kully was acting, it had seemed very important indeed, but he saw she had gone to speak to Pickle. Pickle had more sense than his sister, and would come and tell him if there was something major Kully had picked up on.
He had the same feeling as he looked at the next room. It was definitely the same second room as last season's, but there was something odd about it. Something again, that he couldn't quite place. Out of nowhere, Pickle practically leapt on him.
"Master! Guess what Kully's worked out!"
"So it WAS important, elfin?"
She nodded, standing a few feet behind her brother. "Look away from the screen, Master Treguard. Think back to last season - there's a window on one side of the room...where do you remember it being?"
"Why, on the left of course - I know these dungeons like the back of my hand...I can almost always tell how the place will reform, for pity's sake..." He looked back and jumped in shock.
"It's on the right! Why didn't I notice it before?"
"Because it IS exactly the same room - we just took it for granted that everything contained within the room was there. Nobody would notice a little thing like everything being backwards."
Kully nodded. "You wouldn't know until you came to a place like Wolfglade where there are signs and things with writing on."
Treguard got to his feet. "This is no small matter, elves! Far from it! The dungeons were taken from last season and have been flipped over - completely reversed! Any food that has gone off is inconsumable. Unless Mike finds food soon his life force will dwindle and die out, and we shall never get to the bottom of this mess."
The advisors looked at each other. "So what do we do?" asked Scott.
"Take him as far as you can, I suppose." Reasoned Treguard. "Find out as much as possible."
The next room had a table in it with the few items that had been there last year. Oliver thought hard.
"If I remember correctly, there should be a scroll here, and a spyglass!" They directed Mike to the table, and sure enough, there were the old objects. Mike laid a hand on the spyglass.
"Shall I take a look?" They encouraged him to hold it up. Mike did as they said, but the moment it was placed in front of the Eyeshield, something completely out of the ordinary happened.
The table shot high above him as it grew to hundreds of times it's size in a split second, stretching for a ceiling that had exploded away second's before. The walls began to shrink away at snail's pace. The bricks beneath his feet grew in short bursts, and Scott, Alex and Oliver watched in horror whilst the window expanded, threatening to swallow up the room and drop Mike into nothingness. Mike could see through the gap in his helmet that the edge of the floor was creeping backwards towards him. He moved rearwards on the little bit of ground that was left and called out for help.
"What do I do? How do I stop it?"
They all panicked. "Oh my God...he's going to fall!"
"Will we get him back?"
Treguard bellowed over the racket. "Come, boys! What's the obvious thing to do? What ELSE can you do?"
"DROP THE SPYGLASS!" they all yelled.
Mike put it onto the floor. Nothing happened, except the floor crept back just that little bit further, and it dropped off the edge and fell into a pit of swirling blue.
Kully and Pickle both clapped their hands over their mouths and cried out through them.
"No!" shouted Alex. "Now what!"
Mike fell. He heard his teammates yelling at him through the air but he couldn't even grab hold of them for safety. He fell thousands of feet before he answered their calls.
"I'm here. I'm still alive."
Scott whirled round to face Treguard. "Is he just going to fall forever?"
"Unless there's a passing aeroplane it looks very much like that, doesn't it?" Treguard furrowed his brow in concentration. There didn't seem to be a way out. The fall into nothing had frozen Mike's life force, so unless he could get out of the air and back into the backwards dungeons as they knew it, he was stuck, forever. Suddenly they heard Mike give a shout.
"Hey! It's the spyglass!"
They saw it falling a couple of feet below their friend, and watched as he tried to stretch out his fingers to grasp it. It was too far away.
"Keep trying!" They called.
"What good will it do?" Kully shook her head. It's gone - all gone..."
Mike closed his hand around the spyglass' handle and did the only thing that seemed to make sense to him. He punched a fist through the glass.
Everything turned more upside down than it already was, and imploded. Mike was slammed back on his feet in the third room, the broken spyglass clutched in his right hand. He threw it aside with a shudder and spoke to the other three.
"I hate this place. Get me out."
"Wait," said Oliver. "We need to read the scroll."
"NO!" he shouted. "I might end up in a giant envelope!"
They couldn't help but laugh, and Pickle reassured him. "If everything is backwards, I would think the worst you would have to do would be to work out a message from a backwards text."
Mike finally agreed to open the scroll, but did so very carefully and at arms length, ready to shred it if need be.
"Eht rorrim sah detrats eht emag. Eht scro lliw hsinif ti. Derdgom." Read Mike. They spent a few minutes working out the backwards message, and then another few panicking.
"'The mirror has started the game. The orcs will finish it. Mogdred.'" Quoted Treguard. He groaned dismally. "No...no...no...he said he would return, but I never thought it possible..."
Pickle was staring, open mouthed. "MOGDRED? But he's gone - you banished him...you trapped him in the..." he tailed off.
"...Mirror." Finished Treguard for him. "The Mirror is a place where everything is a reflection. Mogdred was meant to be converted to nothing but a reflection of the past. In most cases, it is only evil things thrown into it and these are reversed into good things - but Mogdred appears to have fought against the power of this mirror. He is still very much evil, and has extended his wrath beyond the glass surface."
"Does that mean he's back?" asked Kully.
Treguard nodded grimly. Scott piped up.
"What about orcs? I didn't think they really existed - I thought they were myths."
"They exist all right." Whimpered Pickle. "Decaying blasphemies of the elf race, they are.
Elves crossed with goblins and trolls. Disposed of into the Mirror seasons and seasons ago...supposedly never to return."
Mike's life force flitted onto the screen. It was lower than low, and there was nothing to save it.
Mike vanished from the screen, and Scott, Alex and Oliver joined him soon after. Treguard, Pickle and Kully waved them a hasty goodbye before turning back to the task at hand. They must forget about the quests, and teams, and Dungeoneers.
They had to save the dungeons.
"What do you propose to do, Master?" Pickle was sitting on the platform and swinging his legs. Kully was staring hard at the screen, but nothing was coming to her. Treguard picked up his staff.
"We're going to take a look into the dungeons. We're going to see exactly what is left."
"How?" Suddenly it dawned on him. Pickle backed up against the wall. "Oooooh no...you're not sending me in there again!"
"Pickle - it's for the good of the dungeons..."
"Please, Master - I've been a good elf..."
"I'll go." Offered Kully.
"You'll do nothing of the sort." Pickle put his foot down and turned to Treguard, trying to look willing. "Is there anything I'll need, Master?"
"No Pickle, just your wits."
Pickle nodded grimly and walked towards the portal. Kully gave him a short wave and he disappeared and came into focus on the screen, back in the first room.
Pickle stared around him. Very strange, being in here again. Sniffing the air, he heard Treguard's voice echoing around him.
"What's in there, Pickle?"
"It stinks of mould."
Pickle shrugged and shook his head. "Not that I can't tell, Master. Next room, do you think?"
Treguard agreed and he headed through the next two portals. He inspected the objects on the table. Other than the scroll and the spyglass there was only a knife. He didn't dare think what would happen if he tried to use it, or even move it. Treguard must have seen the look on his face as he eyed the contents of the tabletop.
"Move along, Pickle. We need to see more than we already have."
He disappeared into the portal.
"What are you playing at, you imbecile? Get out of my room! Get out, or I'll kill you!"
Pickle was terrified. Sidriss had him at wand point and was threatening him with death!
He tried to open his mouth and call Treguard.
"Shut that hole of yours or I'll bind it up for you. Don't...move."
Pickle had never seen so much venom in the young sorceress' face. She was practically spitting her words at him and seemed psychotic. Never taking her eyes off him, she bared her teeth and glared, genuinely hyped and most unlike the gentle, bungling girl they all knew. They all knew that the original Sidriss would never harm another living being for no good reason, but this wasn't the original Sidriss - she looked set on taking Pickle out of the game, and seemed to have a reason for doing it, or so she thought.
Back in the antechamber, Treguard was on the edge of his seat. Kully jumped up and down next to him.
"Do something Master!"
"We don't have time to think!"
"Treguard...help!" Sidriss raised the wand high above her head and started to chant something in a raspy voice.
"Orophes binedum...spekesa mortis...orophes binedum...spekesa mortis..."
Kully did what she could, which wasn't very much. "Spellcasting! R-E-P-A-I-R!"
Once again, the spell backfired. Sidriss was lifted off her feet and flung across the room in a state of unconsciousness.
"Hm." Commented Treguard. "Who would have thought it? If it isn't broken, don't fix it."
Kully was shaking. "Move him out of there, Master! Before she wakes up!"
Pickle didn't wait to be told. He was off in a shot. He didn't think what could be on the other side of the portal.
Treguard saw Pickle emerge on a balcony high above a courtyard, then stagger to a halt and gasp at the scene below. Glancing beyond the foreground and into the space below, he noticed Kully freeze beside him and whisper something under her breath.
"What did you say?"
Treguard didn't think that was what she had said at all, but the second version he had heard was accurate enough. True to her elfish word, the courtyard was packed with orcs, all gazing up at a round, red tinted mirror. A curl of smoke was dancing inside it and seemed to be speaking in garbled tones.
Suddenly the Mirror gave a great roar of an order, and all below raised their arms and yelled something back, apparently in agreement.
Treguard hissed at Pickle. "Pickle! Move out!" Pickle, once again, didn't need to be told. Knowing he couldn't go back, he turned left and scampered silently along the stony surface for a doorway at the end. He pushed it open and a loud creak reverberated through the air, making all the orcs turn and stare upwards through blackened eyes. The Mirror fell silent, and Pickle froze in terror.
"Get out! Don't let them see you properly!" Kully was careful not to use her brother's name, knowing that others also heard her voice in the room. Pickle slipped through the doorway and bolted it behind him. He turned and almost straight away walked through another portal.
"This isn't right." Stressed Treguard. "They have been placed anywhere and everywhere - how do we link them all together?"
Pickle bowled somebody over as he shot out of the black frame. The somebody got up and put her face uncomfortably close to his.
"Hello, Pickle." Elita smiled sweetly and raised an eyebrow at him. "Fancy seeing you here." She turned and wandered a pace or two away, then looked at him over her shoulder, looking too endearing for the norm.
Pickle was apprehensive. Elita? Being nice? This wasn't right either. He realised almost at once that it was the backwards trick again. Treguard's voice came to him again.
"I should think you would be alright with this one, Pickle - Elita's usually horrible."
Kully prodded him and shook her head. "No, that's not right..."
"Elita's nasty to people, but she isn't mean." Pickle swallowed hard as Elita whirled round and fixed her eyes on him suspiciously, but still keeping the captivating smile on her face. He continued on dangerous ground. "That makes this Elita nice, but dangerous - a wolf in sheep's clothing..." Pickle was cut off as Elita slapped him hard across the face.
"You think too much for your own good, you common wood elf." She hissed at him. Whipping a small knife out of her belt she held it to his throat. "Poor, poor Pickle," she murmured, smiling innocently. "Now what are you going to do? What a way to go - at the blade of your own kin..."
"SPELLCASTING! R-E-T-U-R-N!" Treguard brought Pickle back in an instant. The elf reappeared, sitting on the floor of the antechamber, his legs unable to hold him up. Elita was a few feet away.
"What's she doing here!" gasped Kully.
"Well," Treguard scratched his head. "I suppose when one carries out these spells there is no guarantee that other things close by aren't transported with them.
Elita sat up, looking dizzy. "Who're you calling a Thing, face-ache?"
Treguard looked apprehensive at this comment, but Kully smiled. "She's back."
"I know THAT, Face-ache. Where was I?"
"Do you mean to say, you have absolutely no idea where you have been?"
Elita shook her head. "All I remember was going towards the elf portal down in the dungeons, the one I use to get to my cave, and there was a great big red mirror blocking it. I walked towards it to shift the daft thing out of the way, but I saw ME walking towards me."
"Of course you did - you were walking towards a mirror..." Treguard gave Pickle a warning look and he shut up.
"An-y-way." Continued Elita, looking miffed. "The mirror me was walking differently...she looked...cute." Elita shuddered. "It was creepy. Then she came right up to the surface where I was and held out her hand. I thought 'it's only me, how bad can I be?' and took her hand. Then it all went red. The next thing I heard was a spell being cast - it sounded muffled, like it was on the other side of thick glass - and I felt myself being pulled through something solid - like water but not, and I ended up here."
"So where's the reflection Elita?" asked Pickle. Treguard slapped his hand to his forehead.
"Of course! They're a reversed reflection of the dungeon dwellers! Like the reflection of a normal mirror, they can't be taken out of the reflection world - the dungeons before us!" He gestured at the screen. Kully caught on.
"So when we tried to take Elita out of the dungeons, her proper self was pulled out of the Mirror and brought here! Where's the bad Elita though?"
"Oi - dung-dropping!" Elita poked Treguard in the back and he turned around. "If it's any help, I felt something go past me when I was pulled out?"
They all breathed a sigh of relief. "She stuck back in the Mirror - thank God." Said Treguard. Kully shook her head as she thought hard.
"So we can't take them out of the dungeons, but we CAN kill them or get rid of them from the outside!"
Pickle shook his head. "It's a nice idea, but it's not as simple as that, I'm afraid, is it Master?"
Treguard agreed. "Your brother is right - to have an effect on the dungeons, we must have a link to them - a Dungeoneer or otherwise." He saw the look on Pickle's face at the last word and decided not to send him in again. He had had enough of the place for now. Pickle thought of something.
"Does that mean that Lord Fear is being nice?"
"IT MOST CERTAINLY DOES NOT!" Roared Fear from the screen. They all jumped and Kully squeaked and ran up the stairs, followed closely by Pickle. Elita ran up the steps after them - she had never seen the inside or outside of Knightmare Castle.
"Hello, Lord Fear." Treguard addressed the opposition. "How come you haven't been affected by the Mirror?"
"I'm almost sorry to say that I'm in the same boat as you, Dungeonmaster." Sneered Fear. "You are safe out of the dungeons in your castle over there, and I, on the other side of the dungeons, am safe in mine. Unfortunately I had let my minions have the day off before we went into hunting season and they were all caught in the Mirror. Lissard is vegetarian, for My sake!"
Treguard almost smiled.
"It's NOT funny!" growled Fear. "Skarkill is letting out all the dungeonfolk he put in the stocks, and now there are murderous jesters wandering around!"
"Ah. I see what you mean."
"So what do you propose we do?"
"Yes, we. I can't expect a weakling like you and a bunch of kids to handle this can I?"
Lord Fear added hastily. Treguard suspected Fear saw it as the other way round.
"Well, firstly I suggest you bring yourself over here as soon as possible so that we can have a conference, Master to Master?"
Fear thought hard. Should he demand Treguard come to his own castle, to show that he still had power? Should he go there, and maybe see what the Dungeonmaster had in store for the next season? Would it ruin his reputation?
He gave up. He would go - there is no time for pride when your castle is about to be taken over by orcs and there is a possibility of being eaten by the very creatures you tortured for so long.
Lord Fear appeared in the antechamber in a flash of blue light. "Well, Treguard? Solutions?"
"We need to weigh up the odds, first, Lord Fear."
"You have competition."
"MOGDRED? When did he get back? How?"
"Think about it, Fear." Treguard pushed him.
"Ah. THAT Mirror." He nodded slowly. "Well, how do we get to the bottom of this?"
"Find the Mirror. Destroy it. I'm sick of things like this happening."
Lord Fear looked shocked. "This has happened before? When? Who? How?"
"A young black magician by the name of Sadon. Many seasons ago, before we started logging the quests, we banished Sadon for literally killing the Dungeoneers. Terrible, terrible tragedy...dozens of youngsters lost. So we banished him into that very mirror. He returned less than five seasons later and nearly wiped out all life within the dungeons. That is why only a very few of the older folk know about it."
"How did he do this, Treguard? What did you do to get rid of him?"
Treguard cleared his throat. "We had to send two into the dungeons. They had to kill the reflections of various dwellers he had taken over - Merlin, Hordriss, Folly, Velda but to name a few."
"They were all taken over?" Fear looked horrified. "What about the others?"
"Those mentioned are the only ones left from that fateful time. The orcs killed the others within the dungeons. Or turned them into orcs."
Fear looked as though he needed to sit down. If they weren't taken over they were dead? What would happen if the person who went into the dungeons to fix all this were caught?
Treguard knew what he was thinking. "They would die, or be turned into orcs also."
They sat down and talked some more. Two would go into the dungeons, and two would either return triumphant, or perish whilst questing. They could not send Dungeoneers, for they would need a life force, and there was no food in the rooms. Lord Fear asked if Treguard still kept elves. Treguard hesitated - it wasn't fair to send in elves that had only just been brought out of peril within the dungeons...
The three elves hurtled down the stairs and screeched to a halt when they saw who was in the room. Fear smiled sarcastically at them.
"Hello Branston's, hello Lightbulb."
Elita muttered something to Pickle and he grinned. Lord Fear strained his ears...was that...it couldn't be? He didn't dare believe his ears - he hadn't heard it for so long. Thinking his ears were deceiving him, he waved the notion away and directed his attention elsewhere.
"And who is this?" He looked at Kully.
"That's Pickle's sister." Treguard reminded him.
"Really? What's her name - Marinade?"
"You know full well what her name is - you kidnapped her several months ago."
"Oh...oh yes! Of course!" Lord Fear looked embarrassed.
"What's the problem, elves? Why did you come racing down here?"
Their faces fell again. "The orcs." Started Pickle.
They're coming...thought Treguard.
"They're in the woods, and getting closer." Elita, for once, looked frightened. "What are we going to do?"
Pickle said something in a low voice to her, but at first, Treguard thought he was singing. Her strained to hear what he was saying - he couldn't make out a word of it.
"What did you just say to her, Pickle?"
"That we'll be fine, and the two greatest magiwarriors of the era have got a plan."
Treguard didn't think that was what he had said - it had sounded nothing like it. He looked at Lord Fear and saw that he had a worried look on his face.
"What are you thinking, Lord?"
Lord Fear dug inside his cloak and pulled out an old, battered scroll. "I found this inside Goth when I first came here. I didn't think anything of it, but now I do - I honestly wish I didn't have to." Treguard had never heard lord Fear speak like that - all anger was gone from his voice, and was replaced with bitter regret. He took the scroll from Fear and started to open it.
"Is it safe?" cried Kully. Pickle turned and barked something in harsh words at her. Treguard was stunned.
"That's old Elvish..." he looked confused - he had never heard Pickle speak in his natural language before. Kully replied with something apologetic and Elita remained silent, watching the scroll knowingly. Treguard pulled it open.
It was older than he was - the ink faded from being opened only a few times. Struggling to read the twisted old script, he read:
"When the Ealvs speke in the olde toung, bringe forth the Battel of Twinn."
Treguard looked at Fear. The anger was back in his opposer's face. "You know of this Battle of Twinn?"
Fear nodded. "It was a story told to children, years ago, to stop them looking for elves, because human adults didn't trust the creatures. They were told if they found one and heard it speaking in Elvish, the orcs would come and take them away in the night and start a war with the village. There was an element of truth in the story - it came about when the Mirror was made. There was always a risk of reflections coming loose and waging a war on the immediate area..." He slammed a fist on the table. "I never thought it would happen!"
"Well it has, and this is very, very bad. We cannot send anyone else in there - it is too dangerous. We would lose more than it is worth. We must go in ourselves, Fear."
Fear stood tall, contemplating. "There is no other way?"
"There is no other way."
Fear grunted. "Then it must be done. What is the plan?"
"We go in, we kill the reflections, and we take the mirror and destroy it."
"How?" Lord Fear was no longer drawling his answers and questions; he was firing them, ready to carry out the task.
"We burn it. The only thing that will destroy it is fire. Any kind of fire."
Kully perked up. "Oh! Then you don't need to move the Mirror at all!"
Treguard looked surprised. "Why on earth not, Elfin?"
"Us elves have a close contact with a species called the Lakse - a group of quarterlings. Quarter elf, quarter human, quarter pixie and quarter something else..."
"An odd mix...what do they do?"
"They work with fire - it is their life element. They stand for tradition, and detest change. Pickle likes them a lot, don't you, brother?"
Pickle stuck his tongue out at her. "They might be described as arsonists - they will burnanything they can find that induces change and disturbs the peace. They would torch the dungeons if it weren't for the fact that it recycles old materials to make a new dungeon."
Lord Fear looked sceptical. "I've never seen or heard of them - I would have thought if there were a bunch of arsonists around I would have recruited them."
Elita shook her head. "They're very hard to find - won't socialise with any outside their own and definitely won't work for another. But they might help - they HATE orcs." She smiled impishly.
Treguard clapped his hands together loudly. "Well done, elf! How do we contact these beings?"
Kully turned and spoke to Elita in Elvish again. Elita flinched and shook her head.
"Stuff that! I'm not going anywhere out there - there's ORCS in that ruddy forest!"
"Elita! You coward!" Pickle stood, aghast. Kully looked appalled. Elita tried to argue her case.
"Out there? All alone? I'm a cavern elf, for cripes sake! I don't deal with wood elves or anything else like them!"
"The Lakse are your relations! Besides - we will go through the forest with you. We're going that way anyway."
Elita looked at Kully in surprise. "You're going back to the forest? Why?"
"To get some things. And find out what's going on down there."
Treguard broke them apart. "There's no time for banter - all three of you are leaving the castle, then?"
Pickle and Kully nodded. Elita looked at them and nodded as well. "Do you want me to find Velda?"
"What on Earth for?" Treguard looked baffled.
"Trust us." Pickle said, and the three of them vanished. Lord Fear looked questioningly at Treguard, but each knew no more than the other.
Holding hands, the trio ran down the road from the castle, their bare feet skidding on the stones and gravel.
"Shhhh...pick your feet up!" Elita hissed at Kully, who wasn't used to trying to be quiet. Wood elves were used to walking on bark and plants. Suddenly Pickle ground to a halt and the other two bumped into him. He spoke in low Elvish.
"Be quiet - there's something nearby."
The stood very still and stared into the bushes lining the road. There was nothing but shadow and plant within it...or so it seemed. Kully dropped to her hands and knees and began to slink towards a leafy tangle to their right. Pickle desperately tried to coax her back. Kully ignored him and went up close to the bush, which was woven with brambles. Turning, she put a finger to her lips and Pickle fell silent. Pickle saw what Kully thought she had seen, but Elita, not used to looking for unnatural things in the woods, saw nothing.
"There's nothing there!" she announced loudly. Then she screamed as a grey skinned elf burst out of the plant life. Kully fell on her back as the terrible creature rose out of the leaves, snarling and fixing its black, pupil-less eyes on each of them in turn. She gaped for a moment, the foul, rotting stench overcoming her, but came to as Pickle grabbed her by the back of her tunic.
They ran faster than they had every run before. As a young elf, Pickle had been a messenger-elf, hired to deliver speedy notes and letters - he had run fast then, but he ran faster now. They heard the orc bellow behind them and the sound of its leathery feet scratching the road surface. There was no chance of stopping - the further on they ran, the stronger the stench of the orcs became. It was foul, powerful, mind numbing...
It died away. As they passed the bridge into the Northern woods around Knightmare Castle the smell left the air slightly. The orcs had come out of the dungeons of the castle and were slowly destroying all life in the forest around it. It would take a while before they crossed the bridge, and even longer for them to catch up with the elves, if they ran. Pickle led them into the forest, but he and Kully stopped about a mile into the undergrowth.
He was right. The trees were drooping, dropping leaves and the bark looked brittle. The shrubs were turning yellow and there was no movement at all around them. A breeze was blowing, but it carried, faintly, the unclean scent of the orcs. Everything that had grown there was dull and stiff. It looked like it would take a hurricane to sway them - or shatter everything into a thousand twigs.
"What's happening? What's the problem?" Elita couldn't understand. Kully wrung her hands.
"Oh…you wouldn't know - you wouldn't understand...you live with the rocks. Rocks don't die, they just sit. Caverns don't have life sucked out of them. Wood elves thrive on nature - we can't survive without it, just like you thrive on darkness and the underground."
"Orcs affect us too, you know!" Elita looked angry. Pickle looked sceptical.
"I'll believe that when I see it. You have to take that path. It will take you into the caves of the Lakse. Go!"
Elita ran off without saying goodbye. The two remaining elves both felt worried as they followed a hidden path to their own part of the woods. How was Elita affected? Orcs sucked life out of nature-thriving beings like elves through nature itself, but what was there to suck out of rocks and stone?
Treguard and Lord fear had waited for Hordriss to come for nearly an hour. Time was running short and the smell of dying life had crept through the cracks in the castle walls. Mogdred was taking over with his band of fetid entities, and without Hordriss to guard the castle to wait for the elves to return, there was nothing they could do.
A flash of light rattled the flaking bricks, sending a shower of dust over the two masters. Hordriss had arrived.
"Treguard! I came as soon as I could!"
"And not a moment too soon. Can you direct us, guide us, Hordriss?"
"I can indeed!" He looked at Lord Fear. "Are you perfectly willing to go through with this?"
"What do you take me for?" snapped Fear. Hordriss held up his hands in acceptance.
"Very well...I bid you fair chance. I am afraid whilst you are in here, there is nothing more I can do to help."
This was all it took for the pair to get moving. They disappeared into the dungeons and moved through the rooms.
Hours later, Pickle and Kully ran down the stairs into the antechamber, completely out of breath. They didn't seem at all surprised to see Hordriss.
"The orcs...followed us..." Panted Pickle. "Outside...gate..."
"Trying to...get in..."
Hordriss left them to rest, turning back to the screen. "They have already gone into the dungeons." He informed them. "Unless we have some sort of defence we are trapped in this chamber." He turned around again, and noticed for the first time what they were carrying.
"Bows and arrows?" He looked surprised. "I didn't know you two were trained in that."
"We don't tell people because elves are supposed to be gentle and peace loving - not skilled in weaponry and fighting."
"With the exception of that rude little cow Eli-"
Treguard's voice cut Kully off loudly. "I think you've been speaking to that brother of yours one time too many."
"Sorry Master." Kully bowed her head slightly. Treguard and Lord Fear were on the screen, crossing the courtyard that had previously been packed with orcs. It was now deserted.
"Where is Elita, anyway?" Asked Hordriss. Pickle and Kully looked at each other in surprise.
"She should be back by now." Said Pickle worriedly. As if he had used her calling name, Elita stumbled through the archway.
"They're coming." She said, and passed out.
Hordriss knelt beside her and slapped her face gently. She opened her eyes.
"Who are coming, Elita?" he asked.
Pickle put his bow to one side. "Elita...you said you would go and get Velda - where is she?"
All three of them froze in shock. When? How? Why? All sorts of questions flowed through their minds. Elita sat up.
"I'm ok...I just needed a rest..."
She took a deep breath and explained what had happened. "Cavern elves live off the rocks. When orcs suck the life out of us, they begin by breaking down the rocks and stones...then the cavern elves turn to dust. Look."
Elita pulled gently and a strand of her hair. It scattered between her fingers as if it was powder.
"Soon…I'll be nothing but sand."
Pickle and Kully were appalled. They had thought they felt bad; they had lost weight, and felt constantly thirsty for something clean, and their skin was pale rather than the healthy golden colour it should be, but Elita was wasting away too quickly! It wasn't fair...
"Can you cut down the numbers outside?" Hordriss asked them. They nodded. The orcs were unarmed. "Then take yourselves up there."
Kully picked up her bow, and Pickle shared out the arrows that they had collected from their village whilst the other elves had evacuated.
"Kulaemii." Kully looked up and Pickle tossed her a set of arrows. Hordriss furrowed his brow and looked at Pickle.
"Did you just say 'cullamee'? What does that mean?"
Pickle looked confused for a second, and then caught on. "Oh - that's her name. Kully is short for Kulaemii."
"Then why is your name so different to hers?"
"My name is Peilkalos."
"Pale-ka-loss." He pronounced for Hordriss. "Treguard thought my name was Pickle when I first came to him. He was half asleep and grumpy when I gave him my name - I wasn't going to argue with him." He smiled and he and Kully disappeared upstairs again.
Hordriss wondered when he would begin to understand the elf race.
"Look." Kully looked where her brother was pointing. Orcs were heaving at the gates, trampling each other under their feet. They were almost inanimate - they didn't care that they were crushing their own kind to death. Kully shook her head.
"Orcs. They'd kill their own mother if they knew who she was."
They couldn't help feeling sorry for the creatures. They didn't like living - everybody knew that. They would take on suicide missions purely because there was a chance of dying. Surviving as a crossbreed was hard enough, elves knew this from talking to the Lakse - but living as a shunned, emotionless beast had to be worse.
Kully set an arrow to her bow and sent it, whistling, into the throng below them. They watched as an orc on the front line howled and fell dead against the metal bars, it's cause of death protruding from its neck. Pickle raised his eyebrows.
"When did you get so good?"
"I had to do something while you were away." She fired another into the chest of a tall beast.
"That would have been straight through its heart if it had been on the other side, Kully."
The orc staggered and fell down lifeless.
"Orcs' hearts are on the other side to our own."
Pickle was stunned. Kully had learnt more than he had realised during her time in the forest. He thought hard about this as he loaded three arrows, one after the other and fired them in quick succession. Three orcs fell in synchrony, and the two elves looked grimly at each other.
They hated this job.
"There it is." Lord Fear breathed. The Mirror was propped against the wall of the level three clue room. The place was suspiciously quiet - would Mogdred really leave the place unguarded?
"It's derelict." Treguard muttered to him. "Or seems to be. I don't think that's right, do you?"
Lord Fear shook his head, his eyes looking darker than usual. He wasn't used to wandering around, completing quests - it was a great strain on him. Treguard noticed.
"We've nearly done it."
"Shall we get up and get it? I can't see anything else to do."
Treguard thought for a moment. Fear was right. "Yes. Both of us will go."
They got out of the crouching position they had been in behind a large pillar. Walking towards it, they didn't see anything out of the ordinary apart from the usual backwardness. They stopped at the foot of the Mirror.
"It's bigger than I remember it." Treguard commented, gazing at the top of the grand looking glass, which stood around three feet taller than him.
"So all we have to do is wait for these arsonists?" Lord Fear wrapped his cloak around him. It had suddenly become very cold.
They started as a familiar face appeared around the Mirror. Motley grinned at them and moved from behind it to lean on its metal frame. "Hello, boys. Fancy a laugh?"
"Not right now, Motley." Treguard tried to choose his words carefully, enough to stall the reflection jester as much as he could. Motley scowled.
"I want to laugh now. You two look like you could make me laugh. MAKE ME LAUGH."
He swung his toy jester at them, catching them both in the face with it. It felt like it was filled with a lead weight, and they went down like a ton of bricks. Motley opened his eyes wide as though he was shocked, then threw his head back and laughed like a hyena.
"Cor, Dungeonmaster - who would have thought you were such a weakling!" Then his face changed for a split second, and Motley's frightened voice said, "Get me out of here, Treguard."
"Grrrrrrrrrrrrragh!" Motley raised his foot and tried to stamp on Fear. Fear rolled out of the way at the last second and stood up. Motley threw aside his stick and faced Lord Fear, screwing up his nose and baring his teeth in a snarl.
"You fool!" He lunged at the Lord and clamped his hands around his throat. Lord Fear struggled for breath and tried in vain to get the jester's hands off his neck.
"Motley! Get off him!"
Motley stopped, turned around and let his arms fall to his sides, looking as docile as a child. "Destroy him, Treguard."
"The him that's me." Motley looked strained as he talked, as if he was fighting to use the mouth of this body. The anger crossed his face again and Treguard knew that the old Motley was still in the Mirror. Motley raised his arms again and went for Treguard's neck...
And fell down, Lord Fear's shortsword sticking out of his back. Treguard looked shocked. Lord Fear looked none the worse for his experience.
"Good riddance I say." He muttered as thick black smoke swirled out of the opening in the Mirror Motley's back. Fear pulled the sword out and cleaned the ash off the blade with his cloak.
"You didn't tell me you carried a blade."
"What's your point? You have one."
Treguard put a hand on the hilt of his longsword and realised he was right. He couldn't believe that after all that, after Lord Fear had just about saved his life, he still didn't trust part of him. Even though it was all a game.
"Are you Master Treguard?" A person...was it a person...crept out of the shadows, clad in slick black clothing. Treguard nodded and took in the Lakse's appearance. The clothing was closefitting, but there were flame-like trails of the material dragging on the floor from the ankles and hanging from the wrists. The hair was jet black and spiked, and the area around the eyes was smeared in some sort of soot.
"We have a job to do for you." The Lakse spoke quietly, but there was a frightening seriousness in his tone that countered any potential conflict. He moved his hand slightly and seven more melted out of the shadows - two of them female.
"Do you want us to do this?"
"Yes...please. As soon as possible."
The Lakse all nodded and moved towards the Mirror. Fear and Treguard got out of the way and stood well back, unaware of this clan's capabilities. The leader raised his arms and the rest imitated him...or did they know what to do? Were they supposed to be a second or so behind? He didn't know. Lord Fear was watching them intently, hoping to miss nothing.
The leading Lakse bowed his head, and then threw it back and a bright orange light issued from his eyes. He caught it in his cupped hands and held the flaming ball aloft. Treguard blinked. When his eyes reopened the other seven also had their own flames dancing in their hands. He squinted in the light and spoke to Fear at his side.
"Did you see when the others got their fire, and how?"
"No - I blinked."
The red Mirror began to smoke angrily from under the frame. A well-known face turned out of the smoke and an outline appeared.
"My God." Muttered Treguard. "It's him...it's Mogdred."
The Lakse walked towards the surface of the glass, holding out the flames. The wispy Mogdred thrashed, shouting in a thundery voice for the Lakse to 'get back'. They kept moving. They were the ones in power - they had the magic to fend of orcs, mirror images and anything else Mogdred could throw at them. Mogdred hadn't bargained for this. He hadn't known they existed.
The first ball of flames touched the glass and Mogdred recoiled almost completely into the redness behind him. Seven more touched the glass all at once, and Mogdred let out one last, long, final scream, before the whole Mirror burst into white-hot flames, consuming the glass and eating away at him in his own cage.
Two orcs fell at the same time as Kully and Pickle both released simultaneous arrows. They were running low on them, and there were few resources in the castle. Elita slowly made her way over from the top of the staircase.
"Elita!" Cried Pickle. "What are you doing up here? You need your rest!"
"So do you..." Elita was right. Both Pickle and Kully were lily-white and thin. Their hands were shaking and it was taking them more and more shots to hit one orc. Elita began to cry in despair.
"It's no good...they're coming in." Kully saw that she was right. The orcs had broken down part of the gate. She turned back to Elita to consol her, and went to wipe away her tears. She stopped in astonishment.
Pickle stopped firing to look. He gasped. "She's crying sand!"
"I'm going..." moaned Elita. "I'm going..."
A huge roar rolled over the tower wall. Kully jumped up to see what was going on. She stared for a moment, and then dragged Pickle to his feet too, not believing her eyes.
The orcs were being dragged back by some invisible force. They were all in one bunch, live and dead orcs alike, and surrounded in a form of red net made of light. Treguard and Lord Fear had got the Lakse to destroy the Mirror!
There was a deafening crash and a flash of scarlet light, and all three felt their eyes roll back in their heads. The world was ending...the earth had fallen in on itself and taken them with it...they would die...
They opened their eyes to find themselves on the floor of the tower. They weren't dead. Elita's face was soaked where the grains of sand had splashed out into little droplets of salty tears; Treguard and Lord Fear were standing behind them with Hordriss at their side. For once, the sides were united in saving the one place they could call home. Together, they had destroyed the Mirror.
The sky darkened to nightfall, and six stood to watch the perilous dusk turn into a safe night. Six saw a flash of red dance through the clouds and disintegrate, and three thought nothing of it. Three also heard the scream of an angry, sorcerer at that exact same moment. Three remained silent, knowing that it was impossible to explain something to three others who hadn't even heard it.
The orcs were trapped, deep in a reflection world where nobody could look. Mogdred had gone somewhere - nobody knew where. He had been banished by the friends of three little elves. Forever.
For the time being.
I'll be back, little elves, don't you worry.
Emily Evans | Jan 2003