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Chapter 9

When Kieran said it would be the dead of night by the time we reached Tiernan, he was far too optimistic. The sun was coming back up by the time we reached the base of what appeared to be a sheer cliff. I stared up at it with a growing sense of dread.

“Please tell me that we don’t have to climb this.”

Kieran chuckled and shook his head. “This wall is impossible to scale.” He reached down and picked up a sledgehammer that I hadn’t noticed and used it to knock on the cliff face. Moments later, we were greeted by the sound of massive metal gears clanking. The portion of the cliff face that we were standing in front of slid backward with a hiss.

Gabriel pressed himself to my leg and growled at the noise as the gateway opened. I crouched down and stroked his head, doing my best to calm him as the stone moved aside. Two men in ragged, too-old armor stepped out with crossbows pointed at Gabriel and me. The dog’s growl deepened, sounding much bigger than the spaniel should have been able to produce. I stepped in front of him, so both crossbows were aimed at me. I was about to give them a piece of my mind when Kieran laid a hand on my shoulder.

“Lower your weapons, boys. The lady is here to help us, and I’m fairly certain that she would cut your hearts out and eat them if you were to hurt her dog. Stand down.”

The men paled at the mention of hearts being cut out, and I sighed. “He’s joking. I’d kill you for hurting Gabriel, but I wouldn’t be inclined to eat your hearts.” A somewhat hysterical giggle escaped me as the men lowered their crossbows, and I couldn’t seem to stop stroking Gabriel’s head.

The men shifted uncomfortably and eyed one another. The taller, burlier one nodded toward me. “Who’s the girl, Kieran, and why’s she hiding in a hood?”

Kieran smirked. “Lauren, take off your hood.”

I did, and both men’s jaws dropped. They scrambled back a few steps, and a leanly muscular brunette pushed past them with a smirk. “The girl with raven hair, eh? You and I have a lot to talk about, young lady.”

The stone gate clanked closed behind us, driven by massive metal gears that were beyond impressive. Kieran arched a brow at my open admiration. “What?”

“The dwarves did this?”

He and the man who called me raven-haired both nodded. “Yes. Why?”

I crossed my arms and smirked, “A race that technologically advanced must have known that it isn’t possible for the world to be flat. They’re probably off flourishing somewhere without intervention from elves or humans.”

The older man laughed as Kieran’s face reddened. “She’s smarter than she looks.”

“Whatever you say, Rolf,” Kieran muttered, shaking his head.

“It seems that my great-grandson has forgotten any manners he may once have had. I am Rolf Amsel.”

I couldn’t help gawking at the man before me. He didn’t look a day over forty. “I’m sorry, did you say great-grandfather?”

“Aye. I suppose you’re referring to the apparent lack of enough age difference between us?”

I nodded, feeling myself blush. “Well…yeah.”

He chuckled good naturedly and nodded, “I grew up with elves, King Belen in particular. When we were born, his mother cast a spell on us so that we would age at the same rate though he was an elf, and I am human. It is a blessing in some ways, and a curse in others.”

“I see.” I couldn’t help feeling a little sad for him.

“Follow me, Lauren. You and I have much to discuss.”

Although my feet felt like they were about to disintegrate into bloody stumps, I followed without complaint. Gabriel trotted along beside me, and Kieran followed behind. We crossed a much larger expanse of open ground than I’d been expecting before reaching a set of massive wooden doors.

Rolf knocked, and we were waved through, people openly staring at my hair as we traversed a hall, several corridors, and three flights of stairs. Gabriel’s tongue was hanging out the side of his mouth by the time we stopped, and I wasn’t far behind him. I was winded, Gabriel was panting, and Kieran was shaking his head with disdain. Rolf took a key from the leather purse hanging from his belt and unlocked the door we’d paused in front of. He opened it just wide enough for us to squeeze through, waving us all in as he did.

Once we were inside, I noted that oil lamps alone lit the room and that the room seemed to be carved out of solid stone. There were no windows, and only the one door. A large table, almost completely covered with scrolls, took up the majority of space, but there were enough chairs for all of us.

I plunked down in one without being asked, sighing with the sweet relief of not being on my feet for a moment. I squeaked with surprise when Gabriel leaped into my lap, somewhat heavier than he had been when I’d first found him. I smiled and stroked his ears for a moment before leveling my gaze at Rolf.

“Tell me something, Mr. Amsel. Why did you have Kieran rescue me from Sigrid’s palace and bring me here?”

Rolf shook his head. “Please, call me Rolf. As for why I had Kieran bring you to me…I will explain everything in good time. First, I want to know how you came to be in Daraglathia.”

I chewed on my bottom lip, unsure of whether or not I could trust him with the truth. “I’m sure Kieran told you how I seem to have been left in the wake of a massive lightning strike.”

Rolf’s hazel eyes went cold, and he gave a singular nod. “Indeed, he did, and that requires some explanation on your part. And don’t bother lying to me.. I’ll know.”

Gabriel looked up at me from my lap, as if to reassure me that I ought to just tell him, and I sighed. “I was sent here.”

“Sent? By whom?”

“I’m not sure what, or who, they are, but they call themselves the ‘Messengers of Destiny.’ When I was attacked and dying in my world, they offered me a choice.”

“And what choice was that?” Rolf crossed his arms, arching a brow.

“Accept death and move on, or save a foreign world to win my former life back.”

“Excellent.” A cryptic smile fluttered around his mouth for a moment before his gaze shifted to Kieran. “Take her to Wynne at the hot springs, and then give her a room. She looks like she could use some rest.”


Just when I thought I could not possibly take one more step, we came to a massive stone archway that opened onto a natural cavern. It was warmer than any place I’d been in Daraglathia, and I had to shed my cloak. I could hear water bubbling, and steam rose from several spots in the cavern.

“Wynne?” Kieran called, his voice echoing around the stone walls.

I jumped a little when someone materialized out of the shadows to Kieran’s left. The redhead was beautiful, even with a frown and dark circles from sleep deprivation under her eyes. She ignored Kieran and studied me intently. I blushed and shifted with discomfort.

“I see that you have found the young lady from the prophecies.” She put her hands on her hips as she shifted her gaze to Kieran. “She looks dead on her feet. What on earth did you do to her?”

Kieran turned scarlet with indignation. “What did I do to her? I broke her out of Sigrid’s dungeon, got her out of Pallidia, and saved her from the queen’s Elite Guard after she attempted to escape from me.”

Wynne shook her head and let out a barely audible chuckle. “Can you honestly blame her? After what she most likely went through at Sigrid’s hands, why on earth would she trust anyone in Daraglathia? Besides, you don’t exactly have the most charming personality in the world.”

Kieran scowled and shook his head. “Just get her cleaned up, will you? We both need sleep after the journey we’ve had, and the sooner we get to sleep, the better. I’ll be waiting outside.”

Wynne dismissed him with a wave of her hand and gave me a mischievous smile. “He’s so funny when his feathers are ruffled, isn’t he?”

I shrugged. “I haven’t had time to be amused since he broke me out of the dungeon.”

Wynne’s demeanor softened, and she nodded. “I’m sorry. Let’s get you cleaned up, yeah?”

“That sounds wonderful.”

She led me to one of the places where steam was rising from a hot spring. “Do you have clean clothes for when you’re finished?”

“Yes, ma’am. They’re in my pack.” I slid the pack off my back and set it on the floor.

“Good. I’ll have the ones you’re wearing cleaned for you. And please, call me Wynne.” She turned around, allowing me some modesty.

I was beyond happy to get out of my filthy, mud-caked frock. I stripped down and eased into the hot water with a sigh. It was pure bliss.

Wynne picked up my clothes with a smile. “I’ll bring you some soap as soon as I take these to the laundress.”

“Thank you, Wynne.”

I leaned back and let my hair soak, rinsing out the remnants of dried mud from my escape attempt. The heat relaxed muscles that had been tense and aching since I arrived in Daraglathia. I reveled in not being on my feet for the first time in days. All my tension seeped away as the hot water bubbled up around me like a spa bath or a hot tub. Wynne reappeared with soap and linens and I smiled.

“It’ll be nice to feel clean and human again.”

Wynne laughed. “I understand. Take as long as you like, dear. Kieran’s asleep against the archway.”

“Thanks again.”

“You’re very welcome, miss. I didn’t get your name, by the way.”

I felt myself blush. “I’m sorry. I seem to have forgotten all my manners. I’m Lauren Frost.”

“Wynne Cadwallader, at your service. I’ll let you get cleaned up now. If you need anything else, don’t hesitate to give a shout.”

I nodded, and she headed back to the archway. I scrubbed myself from head to toe until there was no soap left, and soaked for a while longer after that. I got out, dried off, wrapped my hair in the linen, and pulled on my clean clothes from home. It felt good to be back in my clothes. I headed for the archway with a contented sigh and nudged Kieran with my foot to wake him.When I nudged Kieran with my foot, he started awake with a violent jerk and woke Gabriel, who had been sleeping beside him. I felt guilty for not having noticed that the dog wasn’t with me while I was enjoying my bath in the hot springs. Gabriel’s indignant bark, however, was directed at Kieran, as if to scold him for interrupting his sleep. Kieran ignored him and stared up at me with sleep-clouded eyes.

“Sorry. I must have drifted off.”

I shook my head. “There’s no need to apologize. You needed the sleep after the journey we’ve had.”

“But I was supposed to be guarding you.” He frowned fiercely as if this was a massive shortcoming on his part.

“Wynne was here. Everything was fine. You have nothing to feel guilty about or to apologize for.”

“Thanks.” He nodded sleepily and yawned, setting off a chain reaction that had both Gabriel and me yawning, too. Kieran stood and stretched. “Ready to head to your room?”

I nodded. “More than you know.”

I stared at his broad shoulders as he led the way through several corridors, and up two flights of stairs. As we trudged the length of this corridor, we passed a man who stared openly at the few tendrils of my black hair that were sticking out from under the linen I’d wrapped my hair in. I frowned as Kieran stopped and glared at the blond, who, on closer inspection, appeared to be a full-blooded elf.

“Forgotten all your manners, Sam? It’s rude to stare, you know.”

Sam shook his head as if waking himself out of a trance. “Yes, of course, how barbaric of me. I do apologize. It’s just her hair; it’s black.”

Kieran held up a hand. “We do not have time for explanations; I’m afraid. Lauren and I have had a long, hard trek from Pallidia, and we’re both tired. I trust that the questions you deserve answers to can wait until tomorrow.”

The elf squared his shoulders, and it was obvious that the two men did not have a good relationship. Kieran arched a brow, and the elf backed down. “Yes, of course. Goodnight to you both.”

As we continued down the hall, I muttered to Kieran under my breath. “What was that all about? And also, I wasn’t aware that there were any elves that aren’t loyal to Sigrid. Are you sure that guy can be trusted?”

Kieran chuckled, clearly pleased with my distrust of the elf. “There are several things about which Sam cannot be trusted, those things being beautiful women, good wine, and gold. He is, however, my cousin and completely loyal to Rolf. Rolf took him in when his parents died of fever and reared him from the time he was a wee babe until he was old enough to study at the University in Pallidia.”

“Oh.” I blushed, realizing that I’d just been horribly racist with absolutely no grounds for it.

“Don’t feel bad. Most of the people who’ve taken shelter with us felt that way about him, at first.”

I nodded, still feeling guilty as we stopped in front of a wooden door that looked like every other door we’d passed in this hall. I knew that the sweet relief of a bed was on the other side, and I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding as Kieran opened the door and waved me in.

I jumped a little when he closed and barred the door behind us. An oil lamp on a small table next to the bed allowed me to take in the room. Only then did I realize that I needed to go to the bathroom.


He looked up from where he was crouching in front of the fireplace, working on starting a fire. “Yes?”

“I just realized that I need to relieve myself.” I was hoping that a chamber pot wouldn’t be my only option.

“Toilet’s through that door over there.”

“Thank God,” I muttered, hurrying through the door and closing it for privacy. Another oil lamp sat on a table next to a basin, revealing the room’s features to me. Clean water ran in a constant stream through a fountain on one wall; a bucket sat next to it, and a stone chair with a hole in it jutted from the opposite wall. “Bless the dwarves, wherever they are, for having real toilets and a sewer system in this mountain fortress. I don’t know why I expected any less after seeing how technologically advanced the gate is.” It took me a minute to register that I was talking to myself, and I shook my head.

When I was finished and clean with something that was similar to, but not quite, toilet paper, I walked over to the bucket, caught water from the fountain in it, and poured it into the toilet to wash the waste out into the sewer. I rinsed my hands with water from the basin, dried them on the clean linen next to the basin, and let myself back into the bedroom. A fire was roaring in the fireplace, and Kieran was slumped in a chair that was next to the door, Gabriel lying at his feet.

I looked at the bed, covered in fur blankets and sighed, completely content with my new situation. The wood frame squeaked as I crawled in, and Gabriel’s ears perked up. He shot me a hopeful look with his big, chocolate-brown eyes and I yawned, patting the open space beside me on the mattress. He took the invitation and bounded over, leaping onto the bed with no hesitation. I buried my face in the single down pillow and fell into a deep and instantaneous sleep.

I don’t know how long I was asleep before I started dreaming, but I was relieved when the Messengers appeared. Karita was the first to speak.

“Are you enjoying the gift we sent you?”

I felt myself frown. “Gift?”

Aithne rolled her eyes. “The dog, of course.”

I blushed, nodding. “I love him. He’s darling.”

Alyssa smiled. “We’re glad you like him. Take good care of him, and he will protect you for as long as you’re in Daraglathia.”

My heart sank and my throat constricted. “I suppose that means that Gabriel can’t come back to Earth with me if I succeed in Daraglathia?”

Karita nodded. “I’m afraid that much is true, Lauren.”

I felt tears well in my eyes, and a lump formed in my throat. I tried my best to swallow the fear and sadness. “I suppose I’d better get on with it, then.”

“Indeed,” Aithne nodded.

“We wish you the best of luck,” Karita smiled, and they faded into darkness, leaving me to continue sleeping in peace.

Next Chapter: Chapter 10