Inside the Circle

For make no mistake, the forces already encountered at the stone circle were not there for defence, but to drag unwary and unwilling souls through the boundary.

The wraiths reached, grabbed, pulled, and they both catapulted through into the waiting chains of the goblin forces.

Solvek was chained and slung onto a rough handcart alongside Trion, who appeared to have been knocked unconscious.

As the cart was bumped and thudded over rocks and other, unmentionable, obstacles, Solvek tried to take stock.

They were surrounded by a squad of around a dozen goblin guards. Their weapons and chains of solid quality, despite their filth, and they moved in a vague semblance of discipline.

The land through which they moved was not the one glimpsed between the boundary stones. Where that had been a small space, bare and desolate, this was a far-reaching mess of jagged stone, black earth and miserable, stunted trees, bristling with thorns.

The cart kept moving, thudding and jolting, and eventually the waste land was exchanged for an equally dark and angry forest.

At some point, Trion had woken and was watching the distorted trees as they passed with an expression of resigned misery.

The goblins paid as much attention to their captives as they would two sacks of potatoes, so Trion was able to tell Solvek where they were, and the likely reason.

The trapped wanderers were bait, to bring Trion in front of the elf who had cursed him.

Solvek was an unfortunate bystander and one Trion hoped would be seen as insignificant enough to be ignored for the most part. He shared survival and navigation details in the guise of stories, memories and uncharacteristic lamentations.

The cart bumped on.

They entered a broad clearing, dominated by a towering castle of dirty grey stone. Trion’s reminiscing moved to guards, weapons and patrol types.

They juddered onto cobblestones as they passed through the archway into the castle and finally their bone-rattling ride drew to a halt. Solvek was not relieved.

The two of them were plucked from the cart and half carried, half dragged through corridors and up stairs.

They were hauled through a large set of doors into an echoing hall, floored with black marble rather than the charcoal stone Solvek’s face had been uncomfortably close to for the past while.

They were dropped. The goblin guards wandering off now delivery was done.

Solvek could see a number of pairs of elegantly-styled boots and shoes, all black, below black clothing, and wondered what would happen if someone were to forceably introduce colours to this group.

Trion tensed just in time to take a kick in his side. He didn’t otherwise react. They were hauled upright, this time by elven guards, disdainful and dismissive and Solvek got a clear view of the room in front of him.

He somehow managed to mimic Trion’s show of indifference at the sight of the three huddled figures in a cage in one corner. He let his eyes wash over them and around the room, observing, cataloguing, calculating. The hall contained a scattering of sneering elves, all focused on their group at the door.

The part of Solvek’s mind that suggested colour, now also noted that many of those sneers, while ostensibly directed a Trion, were in truth aimed at the scowling elf who had delivered the kick.

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