JackRubashevskiy's "entry" into the Summer Prose Competition 2010, which he is running, because he feels a little left out.
He rubbed at his thighs after dismounting, legs sore from climbing hills on horseback. The ground beneath him was rough, small stones scraping under his feet as he shifted weight. With the back of his hand he wiped a bead of sweat from his brow, his thumb brushing against the cloth of the blindfold. The itchiness that had plagued him since having to done it had subsided, his body now numb to the sensation across his forehead.
"Hold this and follow me, Jasen," a voice called. Immediately after, he felt a blunt object tapping his wrist. He grabbed it, and was then gently tugged forward.
"Wouldn't it be easier just to remove the blindfold?" Jasen asked.
"Yes," came the reply. "But I can't allow you to know the route to our hideout."
"Because the Red King is looking for me, and if he captures me I won't be able to find my way back."
Jasen listened silently as they walked, hearing strange bird calls echoing from above him and the soft noises of the horse as it walked behind him. Suddenly he felt a sense of cool rush over him, and what little light passed through the blindfold diminished. Eventually the air seemed to stand still, and his footsteps echoed all around him, as did his heavy breaths. The ground, though, felt different than it did outside: the roughness was more even, as if intentional.
"You won't let that happen, though," he finally said.
"What?" The question came from behind him, causing him to start.
"Won't let the Red King have me back."
Jasen squinted as the blindfold fell, allowing sunlight to invade his unready eyes.
Jasen turned to face the man behind him. Elf, actually. Even after a few days in this place he couldn't quite accept the people as other than human. They looked like humans, spoke like humans, and had all the same social problems as humans. But they weren't: Kellendil asserted that he was an iron elf, that the Red King they had fled was a stone elf.
"Is this it, Kellen?" he asked.
There was very little to see around him, besides the gray walls of stone that spread up beside him before curving into the ceiling.
The elf didn't answer the question, but instead replied, "Look down."
Jasen did, and realized why the ground was so regularly irregular.
"Train tracks?" he whispered.
The tracks were much narrower than the ones he had seen in the city, or the ones that branched out from the waypoint station. These tracks seemed fit for a smaller vessel, a cart, even.
"Is this a mine?"
"Correct," Kellendil answered. "I told you that we iron elves are named so for our ability to withstand iron's poison. The stone and wood elves keep us to gather iron and other minerals for their cities."
Images of sparkling towers and glass-like structures rose to Jasen's mind, memories of the city he had been in the day before. All of it was made of polished stone and metal, with organic forms so different than the rigid high rises back home. The skyscrapers in the elven city did scrape the sky, their peaks shaped into pointed pinnacles that gleamed in the sunlight.
Kellendil had been speaking during Jasen's reverie, though Jasen was able to catch the end of his speech.
"And so they turned our home into our prison."
Behind him, Jasen could barely make out the distant form of the city, a sparkle on the horizon framed by the dark, roughly hewn edges of the tunnel. In front there was only darkness, an inky shroud that would soon swallow him whole and welcome him into the underworld.
"This one has been abandoned, though," Kellendil continued. "Come."
What met him as he stepped out of the darkness was entirely unexpected. The cavern seemed to stretch forwards and outwards for miles, but he knew it could not be true. Blackness hung over the settlement where the ceiling should have been, the stone roof far above the open space. Tall pillars reached up into the black cloud of emptiness and disappeared into it, probably a support structure of some sort. Jasen even saw the sparkle that was familiar to him from the elven city, the same materials used here glowing softly in the sea of torches that lighted the place.
Kellendil turned to face him, a smile on his face. With a wave of his arm, he announced their arrival.
"Welcome to Ironhaven, Jasen."