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Werenthria: The Adventures of Ren and Kaineth

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Chapter 5: The Needles Eye

Kaineth knelt beside Ren in a thicket as a high-elf scouting party marched by. Five men wearing armor painted with the sigil of a raven and carrying standard spears. Dark circles hung under their eyes and their weapons swung loose in their hands as they walked. It was obvious the frigid mountain air didn't agree with them either.
The sight of the sigil and his kinsmen made him long for the warm sun of his homeland in the southern isles. Clouds only covered the sky when thunderstorms passed over the in the hot afternoons.

He felt Ren shift next to him, but couldn't see her as she was sitting in his blind spot.

"None of them wear helms," she whispered, "I can take them down if necessary."

Kaineth shook his head. These had once been his men, and that counted for something, but there was another reason not to attack. A missing scout party would only raise suspicion in the camp. It was better to let them pass without issue. "No, killing them will only make the camp uneasy when they don't return.”

Ren nodded as she watched the high-elves make their way down the road. The sigil painted on their shoulder guards felt familiar to her. She had seen them march to the pass in rows of five a mile long, but even then the insignia had felt familiar to her, but she couldn't think of why. Glancing to Kaineth, she noticed that his obsidian armor did not carry the mark at all.

"Your armor is bare," she commented, "Did you have your sigil removed?"

"Aye. I had to remove it. It would identify me as part of the house and I couldn't risk anyone know I was alive."

Ren returned her attention back to the scout squad thinking of Kaineth. High-elves took great pride in their houses and lordships. Being unable to wear his own house sigil was a deep dishonor to him. He had lost more than his wife. He'd lost everything he'd ever had and spent an entire year in solitude. She knew all too well how that felt...to lose everything...thrown into a cold crate...in the dark....

"They're gone."

The sound of Kaineth's voice made her jerk out of her thoughts and her hands dropped away from her wrists. Taking a quick glimpse at the road, she realized the high-elf was correct. She stood and brushed off her pants before climbing out of the frost covered thicket. " Aye, we should be safe now."

He rose and followed the wood-elf as she led them back to the road. For a moment she had appeared distracted. He thought of asking why, but realized it was exhaustion affecting her. The wood-elf had been scouting ahead all morning to ensure the road was clear and then doubling back to him. Constant movement like that could wear anyone down.

Battling the incoming weather was becoming a task all on its own. The storm clouds covered the sun, casting a grey hue over the landscape and the mountains in the distance. Fierce gusts of wind swooped in carrying with it pin-prick flakes of snow from the thick clouds above. The wind was becoming so harsh that even Kaineth's thick woolen cloak couldn't block the chill.

As they entered the shadow of the mountain range, the forest began to fade away. The thinning trees gave way to boulders and rising cliffs of jagged slate. Skeletal trees rattled against the wind as snow dropped in clumps to the ground from their branches.

Ren’s golden eyes scanned the narrow road in a careful pattern. She had no desire to be followed by Rafe again, but with the wind howling and constant movement in the deadened trees made it easy to hide. Her stomach gurgled, reminding her that no dinner and no breakfast had been displeasing to it. Hunting in the area would be fruitless. This area was always bleak, even in the spring time, and game was scarce to begin with. When she considered how many Thrax and High-elves had been scouring the area for the same animals, hunting seemed like a waste of energy. She had gone far longer than a mere night and day without food, however. Food was a great reward to an obedient slave and she tended not to take orders well. The scars lashed across her back were proof enough of that. A master would never touch her again.

“Ren.”

She turned to see Kaineth’s solitary blue eye peering down at her as she walked beside him. “Aye?”

“You were whispering.”

His eye seemed to bore into her and goosebumps prickled over her skin. Looking away from the tall high-elf, she was relieved to see they had come close enough to see the next part of their trek into the mountains.

“Indeed,” she replied quickly, as she pointed down the path, “You can see part of the Needles Eye from here. Well, the path that leads to it anyways.”

Kaineth glanced up to where Ren was pointing along the rocky road. In the distance he could see the mountains waiting for them. Craggy, grey peaks capped in a permanent layer of snow that blended with the clouds above it. Between those peaks sat the ravines and valleys, only one of which was passable; The one Malyiketh was occupying.
His eye traveled to the specific point were the wood-elf was gesturing to and found a sheer cliff side, the true start to the mountains. A small foot path wound its way up the wall, zig-zagging on itself as it lead upward and around a corner out of sight.

“That is our path?” Kaineth asked, as he surveyed the cliff.

Ren nodded as she side stepped a loose pile of gravel. “Yes. That path will take us up and around where another cliff will rise up on the other side of the trail. Eventually the two cliffs come close together, creating the Needles Eye. Once we go through there, we’ll be on a small plateau where the caves will be.”

“And the caves lead to the pass?”

“No, the caves link up naturally to the gem mines which have been empty for decades. Those will lead us to an area just behind the high-elf camp and keep us out of the weather.”
 
Kaineth furrowed his brow as he gazed up the small, snowy trail leading up the mountain. It was little more than a goat path. Would his feet even fit on the small ledges? “This is the best way?”

“Absolutely,” she said confidently, “It will keep us out of the weather, if the storm grows to harsh, and give us the greatest chance of making into the valley unseen.”

The wood-elf was confident, and her reasoning was sound, but he had another concern.  “How do we know the high-elves aren’t using the cave systems as we are?”

“We don’t know,” Ren replied as a bitterly cold wind braced against them, “What I do know, is that Rafe had men watching the high-elves when they first arrived. The soldiers weren’t familiar with the cave system and were steering clear of it.”

Running his gloved hand over the thick stubble on his chin, he considered the path she proposed. He still disliked the idea of the caves. More than armored high-elves could be lurking the heart of the mountain, but he had trusted her this far and done well. He would to trust her once more.

“The Needle’s Eye it is then,” he said with a respectful nod.

Ren nodded and gave him a small smile. She would never admit to him that she hated the caves. He had seemed hesitant to use them already, but she had no doubts that this way offered the highest chance of success. Knowing that made facing the darkness bearable, and if it wasn’t, she’d find a way to get through them.

Soon the snow fall grew heavier as the road started at a gentle slope upward toward the cliff. The steepness grew with each winding turn as they traveled upward.

The rocky mountain face loomed over them shadowed by the curtains of falling snow, as they came to the start of the cliff trail. The trail was barely a shoulder width apart, and even narrower in some places, as they began to walk. Ren went before him, traversing the terrain in the heavy snow fall with ease. He followed behind her, making sure to place each foot step with precision.

They picked their way up the cliff for, what Kaineth could figure was an hour or better. His legs were burning with the effort of so much upward progress combined with the weight of his armor but, he would never reveal his fatigue. Instead, he focused on Ren's back. Her gear was half hidden by curtains of her blond hair whipping with the cold wind and snow. He wondered again why she was doing this. Why was she willing to walk with him into such a dangerous place? The wood-elf had artfully ignored the first time he asked, but he wanted to know why before he faced Malyiketh. Even if it wouldn't make a difference.

"Ren-"

His foot caught the iced gravel instead of solid rock and the path crumbled under his boot heel. He found himself sliding out into the open air with the ground hundreds of feet below. "Aaahg!"

Suddenly, a hand grabbed him by the shoulder guard, jerking him to stop as he hung over the side of the cliff with his heart pounding in his throat. Another hand slapped across his other shoulder and gripped the other side of the armor there too. Not falling. He was not falling.
He tossed his head back to see Ren, teeth bared in a grimace, as she clutched at him.

“Help me,” she hissed through her teeth, “C’mon!”

He met her golden eyes, gasping against the shock and pain of being suspended by his armor. She was strong, but it would be impossible for her to pull him up alone. Growling, he bent his knees and dug his heels into the rock wall behind him, trying to give himself a boost. "Pull!"

Ren planted her feet and applied all her strength to pull up while he pushed. His heels slipped but together, they pulled out of the open air. The wood-elf dropped him on his butt between her feet on the thin ledge and looked down at him through swaths of her long hair. Both of them sat breathing hard until the echoes of their yelling faded and rush of the moment passed.

“You and that bare tin suit are heavy,” she chuckled breathlessly.

“Indeed..” he puffed, his breath a cloud of steam, “but…you are….stronger than you look.”

She untangled herself from over him and then offered him her small hand. He took it firmly in his and she helped him rise to his feet. His eye met hers and he realized he was glad to have the company. “My thanks, Ren."

“You’re welcome,” she replied with sincerity.
Then as she turned to icy trail she shot him a playful grin, “Of course the next time I save you, it’ll cost you a gold piece.”

Kaineth chuckled at her sarcasm, as she continued walking up the winding path behind her.

Heavy white flakes rained down and the wind become more powerful, slamming against them like a battering ram. He was thankful for his tin suit as Ren had called it. The metal dispelled most of the violent gusts and acted almost akin to an anchor while the light wood-elf struggled to make forward progress.

The trail seemed to meander upward forever until another cliff rose from the ground to meet the path on the opposite side, creating a narrow ravine. Their path would become the bottom of the ravine, angling upwards like a ramp to the plateau above.

“The Needle’s Eye,” Ren announced she slipped her bow and quiver from her back, “The caves are just past this.”

Kaineth looked down the narrow path that gradually lead to the ledge above. The walls were covered in ice from melted and refrozen snow. Where they weren’t icy, there were rough grey stone. He had armor to protect himself from the stone, but would he even fit through?


“Take off your belt.”

He glanced to Ren who was looking up at him expectantly. “Pardon?”

She nodded to the long sword at his hip. “Your belt. You’ll have to take off your sword to get through the Eye.”


Kaineth looked down to his sword and then to the wood-elf again as she waited for him.  “Oh. …Aye.," he mumbled, as he started unbuckling his belt from his waist.

Ren grasped her bow and quiver and took a deep breath before leading them into the ravine shoulder first. The sharp walls on both sides felt confining within her first ten wobbly steps inside the Eye. Despite her size, and the reputation of wood-elves, small spaces made her finicky. The air always felt thicker in close quarters, making it hard for to breath. Entering them had never become easier even years after her first owner.

Kaineth turned his body to the side and began shuffling through the two walls behind her with his sword gripped in left hand. Within the first two steps his breastplate caught on the stone, and scraped along the wall, filling the ravine with the screech of metal on rock. Ren’s shoulders curled with a cringe as she glanced back at him with a pained look and he winced. They had yet to reach the most narrow point of the ravine. He shook his head, clearing his ears of the sound, and kept moving. Despite the difficulty his armor created, he was glad for it. The walls were rough and the metal protected his larger frame as it bumped along the walls of the Eye.


Ren pushed through the suffocating ravine, and not caring for minors scrapes, on the way out. The path began to angle upward, leading them to the flat plateau above as the walls grew shorter. Already, she could breathe better, though she had reached the narrowest part. Squeezing past a jagged outcropping, she made her way to the end of the ravine and on to the open plateau in relief.


The icy wind met her with hard gust as she emerged into the open flat area. The plateau was roughly 20 meters in width with a sheer drop on either side which gave way to other ravines. The cave mouth sat opposite of the Needles Eye, embedded in the mountainside 300 meters or so from where she stood. Snow whirled over the stone as she scanned the area. She had expected to find it vacant, but bright colors caught her eye. Between her and the cave was a squad of yellow-skinned Thrax. Each had red war paint smeared over their bare chests and a large spear made of bone in their hands. These were not renegades, they were part of the Horde waiting on the other side of the pass, and they had spotted her.

“Thrax!” Ren called out to Kaineth as the squad began

“Numbers?!” came a reply from far behind her.

“Six spearman!”

She slung her quiver over her back and readied her bow as the squad began coming toward the Eye. The leader, a heavy painted beast with a thin bone skewered through his nose, motioned the others to attack. The two rear Thrax squabbled for a moment before breaking away from the others with spears down. Hungry bellows echoed from them as the charged.

Her instincts took over and she plucked an arrow from her quiver before drawing it across her bow. She would have no chance if against all six if she let them come close. They would over power her with ease if they were able to use their spears at all. Aiming at the fattest of the charging monsters she adjusted her angle. The violent wind was making it impossible to aim with her usual precision, but she couldn’t afford to miss. Where was the bloody high-elf?

Kaineth heard the bellows and spied Ren at the end of the ravine drawing her bow. The wood-elf had gotten so far ahead of him, in the Eye he was struggling to catch up. With the Thrax on the move, he couldn’t leave the archer to deal with them alone. Picking up his pace, he shoved his way through the walls until suddenly his armor caught. His breast plate wedged between the two walls, captured between the narrowest part of the Eye. He was stuck.

Ren fired the first shot. The arrow flew true to her aim and was then swept up into the air, missing its mark by a meter margin. “Damnit!”

The wood-elf knocked another arrow as the squad drew closer, aiming for the chest of the closest Thrax. It would be no killing blow, but it provided the largest target. She drew and released only to see the arrow miss its mark again.

She stepped away from the entrance to the ravine and fired again, the arrow landed her target’s meaty arm. The injured creature let out an aggravated howl as he ripped the arrow from his arm without breaking his pace.

There was no time for another shot as the two closed the distance, brandishing their crusty bone wrought spears.

“C’mon!” she bated, “Come and claim your spoils before the rest arrive!”

Ren unsheathed her dagger and when the first came within striking distance, she let him take his first jab with the grimy spear. With a quick side step she dodged the thrust and stepped forward slicing at his thick hand. The creature bellowed at the slice and let go of his weapon. Ren didn’t hesitate before going in for another attack to his exposed belly. The dagger sank into its flab and she pulled the blade across the yellow flesh, causing as much damage as she could.  The Thrax stumbled back from her, roaring in pain, before receiving two quick slices to the legs. With the monster tumbling to its knees and on her level. Ren slashed again. Green blood began slipping from its slit throat as it fell backwards.

Kaineth bucked and thrashed trying to free himself from the walls of the ravine. Ren had disappeared from his limited view, locked in combat with the Thrax. He growled as he struggled harder against the hard rock. The armor scraped and groaned as the metal itself began to bend.

Ren readied her dagger for another attack as the second monster moved in on her and another arrived to replace the dead. One jabbed at her right and she dodged, circling until a swing from the other stopped her in her tracks. She began backing away, but there was only so much space before she would reach the edge of the plateau. She dodged another swipe, this one coming closer. The two were herding her to the edge.

“Elfin…” the one to the right growled through blackened teeth, “…Eateh…”

Ren felt her stomach tighten at the idea. Thrax would eat anything given the chance including their own kind if they are hungry enough. It was impossible to make a move on one using her dagger without exposing herself to the other. Slipping her fingers to the tip of her blade she flicked her dagger at one, hoping to distract it long enough to run. The dagger landed in its shoulder with hard thunk and it howled before ripping the blade out. Green blood trailed down his chest, but the wound did nothing to slow its progress.

She stepped back, dodging swing after swing, and nearing the edge of the plateau. Ren glanced back, seeing the open air behind her. The blood pounding in her ears made the howling wind seem quiet. If she was going to die alone, it would be on her terms. She would jump off the edge before letting one of those monsters touch her.

When she looked back to the creatures, one stood stock still as its head tumbled from his shoulders. The body followed with a heavy thud and Kaineth turned to the other, a cold scowl on his face. He aimed another swing at the second Thrax, slicing over its back,and causing it to bellow as it turned to face him. It was much too slow. The creature met the tip of Kaineth’s sword with its belly. He twisted the blade buried deep in the Thrax and then kicked it off with a grunt.

Ren stared at Kaineth in surprise and a flood of relief. He had not left her.  The high-elf flicked his hood away from his ears and rounded on the remaining monsters. “Stay behind me.”

The leader of the party barked orders in their harsh language, and all three rushed forward to attack him at one time.

Kaineth moved with grace and the ease of practice again, the same he had used against the rogues in the Frost Forest. Side stepping the first swipe he used the momentum to swing down, breaking the bone spear in two with his sword. Then an arching slice up from the belly to the chest sent the Thrax to its knees. The next moved in on him. He met the second spear, glancing it away from him before stepping up to close the gap between its owner, ending him. The last suffered a driving stab to his chest its body, landing with a wet thump onto the hard rock beneath them.


Ren watched him work until the last monster fell and he stood there over the bodies wiping down his sword. He truly was incredibly skilled and she was lucky that he was. She slung her bow over her back and picked up her discarded dagger, ignoring the tremor of adrenaline coursing through her. With a shaking breath, she walked over to Kaineth. His eye was still cold with the thrill and focus of battle and his once beautiful armor sported a deep dent in the middle of the breast plate.

“You’re not hurt, are you?” he asked, as she approached.

She stowed her dagger and cleared her throat. “I’m alright, Thanks for your help.”

Kaineth slid his cleaned sword home into its sheath and gave her a lopsided smile. “Of course. The first save is for free, but you keep that up and you’ll be the one owing me gold.”

Ren looked over the high-elf and started laughing.  “We’ll see about that. Right now we’re even but we’ve got a long way to go.”

Kaineth pulled his cowl back over his ears and chuckled. “Then we’d best continue.”

The two of them turned to the cave set in the mountain side across the plateau and starting walking as the stormy winds now pushed against their backs.
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