“I suppose it is, but we have always been a rather dramatic people at heart,” he says. “”Our current condition has given us a somewhat…darker perspective.” He turns his head and smiles as he walks. “There was a time I wished for a little more darkness in our lives and time has granted it. I try to think of it as a lesson of some sort, but I’ve not been able to put my fingers on what it is.”
“Be careful what you wish for,” I say.
He stops and looks at me again. “Be careful what you wish for,” he says. I can almost see the words rolling around in his mind. “Yes, I think that will work nicely. Thank you.”
“My name is Justin, by the way,” I say and offer my hand.
My rescuer looks at my hand, then at me and back again. His little hand makes mine look enormous as he takes it and gives it a firm shake. “You may call me Julius.”
“Nice to meet you, Julius,” I say as we begin to walk again.
“Alright, I think that’s enough chat for now,” he says. “We need to work on silence now, and don’t forget what I’ve told you.”
I nod my head in agreement and return to silence, left with more questions and no caring for it one bit.
We walk out of the tunnel into a large open cavern filled with open pipes spilling everything from potable water to raw sewage. Smaller caves are dug into the walls from the floor to the ceiling, giving the place a decidedly unstable look. People roughly the same size as Julius walk back and forth across pipes, rails, planks and ledges with daunting ease. They all wear the same cloak and hood combination as my rescuer, though the shades vary from person to person. If these are indeed the elves of old then they have fallen far, perhaps even further than I have.
Julius leads the way into the warren of the elves and whispers, “watch your step. You do not want to fall.” I look down and silently agree. A fall would certainly be dangerous because of the distance and rather cluttered and uneven floor, but it is the dark, slithering shapes moving about half hidden that worry me most. I don’t fear snakes, but I can sense that there are no snakes on the floor below. “They are the Lampree,” Julius says. “They are abominations of the ancient world. They enjoy elf flesh, but they are not so picky as to ignore you.”
The cavern is lit by a source far overhead. It reminds me of sunlight, but it feels brighter, more concentrated. Some of the small caverns exude a light of their own and I see an occasional candle or torch being carried about by some of the residents in the dark spaces as well, but the light from above is what I saw as we crawled through the tunnel.
“Hello Julius. I see you brought us some dinner,” says a slightly taller elf who greets us at the opening.
“You wouldn’t like the taste of him, Scipio. He doesn’t eat enough and doesn’t eat well either, by the smell of him,” says Julius.
Scipio steps close to me and it is all I can do not to take a step back. He smells of garbage, rancid meat and juniper berries; it is a brutal assault on my senses. He breathes in deeply through his nose and says, “yeah, there is definitely something dirty about this one.” He punches me in the stomach and I double over. Scipio laughs and pats me on the cheek. “He’ll fit right in here.”
“He won’t be staying long,” Julius says.
“What about you?” Scipio’s face is a confusion of emotions that I find hard to read.
“I don’t know yet.” Julius takes me by the elbow and guides me past the other elf.