劇透 - :
Further search revealed a dark stairwell behnd another door, and the elf slowly began to descend. His
eyes were attuned to minimal light, but even so, he found it hard to make out any details in here. Lower and
lower he crept, pausing to open an occasional door and carefully explore chambers beyond. He found the
remains of many gnomes, as well as odd bits of machinery, but nothing that indicated anyone was alive.
Always he went back to the stairs, still making his way downward.
He estimated that he was nearing the bottom of the tower when he heard a faint cry, the sound echoing
through the hollow metal. "Hello?" he called. "Is someone there?"
"Help!" The cry was repeated, urgently. "But be careful."
He moved as quickly as he could, calling out again, hearing the responses in a male voice that, though
weak, was clearly invigorated by hope.
Finally, he stood before a silver door, with a series of buttons down the right side of the frame. The voice
seemed to be coming from within.
"Who's in there? Are you hurt?" Gilthanas asked.
"My name is Lethagas ... and I'm not hurt, at least not any more. I've been in here for years—it's been that
long since I've heard a living voice! Please, get me out!"
"I'll try," Gilthanas promised, though he looked askance at the array of buttons. "Do you know which button
I should push?"
"Don't push any of them!" The voice came back, so shrill with panic that Gilthanas jumped back from the
silver door. "That is, can you try just pushing on the door?"
He did, and surprisingly enough the portal swung easily open to reveal a spacious room of metal walls
illuminated by the same white brightness he had noticed above. With a sob of joy, the prisoner called Lethagas
stumbled forward, hastily interposing his body between the silver door and its frame.
"It wasn't locked?" Gilthanas said in amazement, at the same time seeing the golden hair and slender,
pointed ears of a fellow elf.
"No, but it fit so smoothly into the wall that there was no way to pry it open from the inside."
"You've been in there for years? How did you survive?"
Mutely, Lethagas pointed at a series of nozzles along the far wall. As the two elves watched, one of these
spewed a narrow stream of water, which splashed on the floor and then flowed through a grate just below. The
next nozzle then dropped a few plops of green goo, which also dribbled through the grate.
"Automatic food and water," Leth replied, tautly. "Fiendish, isn't it?"
"More likely accidental," Gilthanas said. "How did you come to be here?" he asked, guiding Lethagas out of
"I was on an adventure with two friends ... we were looking for a machine that would help us defend
Qualinost. We thought there would be good profit in it, so we flew here on griffins that have always been loyal
to my family. One of my friends died atop the tower, pierced by some kind of spear-machine. The other one got
tangled in some gears—I saw him mangled before my eyes."
"And you... ?"
"I was just looking for a place to rest. I stepped into this room, the door closed behind me, and then I spent
several years here until you came along. I owe you my thanks—not to mention my sanit, and my life."
"Glad I could help," Gilthanas said. "But what is it about Qualinesti that it needs defenses?"
"The Dark Knights and the Speaker of the Sun are still at odds, to be sure, but new threats are taking shape.
Sooner or later one of the Great Dragons is certain to lay claim to our forests."
Many more questions came to Gilthanas, but he didn't get the chance to ask them.
"But what's your story, friend?" Leth asked. "Not to mention, how did you survive this far?"
He was about to answer when both elves became aware of two voices, clearly bickering, and coming
"Put a lock on the door, I said ... I said it would work better with a lock, but no! You had to be right, again!"
The speaker was a male, but his tone was high-pitched and almost frantic with irritation.
"It would have worked!" insisted the other, in an even higher, apparently female, voice. "But wh said they
could open it from the outside! That's not even fair!"
A moment later, two gnomes strolled into view, coming up the stairs that Gilthanas had been descending.
They were short and plump, barely waist high to the elves. Each was dressed in a gown of blue and had long
gray hair. The male also displayed a beard of the same color that descended all the way to the floor.
"I say," remarked the bearded one, ignoring Gilthanas to squint up at Lethagas. "Would you mind stepping
back into the Perpetual Prison? Our experiment is far from over."
"I would mind, very much!" snapped the elf, his long-fingered hands curling into fists.
"There's no need to be huffy!" retorted the female gnome sharply. "After all, you've been our guest for five
and a half years now. Haven't we fed you every day?"
Leth blanched. "Five and a half years?" he croaked, sagging against the wall.
But the gnomes weren't listening. "Technically, the machine fed him, not us," the male was reminding his
partner. "After all, what's the point of a Perpetual Prison if one has to tend the prisoner? Who would still be a
prisoner if you would have just let me put a lock on the door!"
"Never mind that! It still worked and will work again—or my name is not
"Enough!" snapped Gilthanas, remembering another thing about gnomes: When one started to say his—or
her— name, the recitation had to be stopped immediately. Otherwise, it could take several days. "The point is,
you have no right to hold this elf prisoner!"
"Why, the very idea!" sniffed Drussi. "Have you no respect for science? For knowledge, or invention, or
discovery? You're both ignorant savages!"
"I'll show you savagery," growled Lethagas, stepping forward, clearly ready to wring a gnome's neck. He
continued to mutter, "Imprisoning me in a cell for years ... feeding me with foul slime ... leaving your fellow
gnomes to rot on the floor around us...."
Gilthanas placed a calming hand on the younger elf's shoulder. "Perhaps we can talk a bit," he said to the
gnomes. "Are there more of your people here?"
"There were lots," chirped the male. "There've been a few accidents, though."
"And there'll be more, you old fool!" snorted Drussi. "As if you could do anything right,
"How about we just call you 'Spudder?'" Gilthanas interjected. "Now, do I take it you are the only two
gnomes left here?"
"For now," admitted Spudder.
"I came here on a quest," the elf continued. "I'm seeking a dragon of silver, and I learned that she was
coming to help gnomes in a tower. I think she came here. Did you see her?"
"Silvara?" asked Drussi. "Of course we did!"
"How long ago?" Gilthanas's heart quickened, and he scarcely breathed as he waited for her answer.
"Not long ... a few years, at the most."
"But she was here! Where did she go? Did you talk to her?"
"Only to tell her we didn't need any help. She got kind of huffy, and then she left."
"To where?" cried Gilthanas, feeling his hopes slipping away.
"She wouldn't tell us—or rather, we didn't ask," said Drussi. "Now, if you'll forgive us, we've got work to
"Not so fast!" Lethagas declared. "First, you'll see that we can get out of here!"
Gilthanas was sagging with defeat, barely listening to the debate as the other elf finally persuaded the two
gnomes to see them out of the tower. Drussi and Spudder led them down the stairs until they reached a
cavernous room that was apparently underneath the base of the tower.
"My griffins?" Leth asked. "Have you seen them?"
"They're still out there, flying around. Probably waiting for you," Drussi sniffed. "How do we get out?" he
Spudder pointed to a large machine: a wheeled mechanism with a studded drill mounted on the front. "This
is our digger. It will take you through the wall."
"You have to dig your way out?" Gilthanas asked in disbelief.
"Us? No! You're the ones who want to leave!"
"Do you have any rope?" he pressed. "I think I'd rather take my chances climbing own from the tower or
going out the door."
"If you insist," muttered Spudder, adding an epithet for 'coward' under his breath. The elves ignored the
taunt and convinced the gnomes to climb with them to the top of the tower. Although both gnomes insisted the
lift worked just fine, going up at least, the elves preferred to trust their feet.
Finally, they stood beneath the trapdoor, each elf wrapped in a heavy coil of rope. Remembering that this
portal had been the one part of the tower unblemished by any sort of machine, Gilthanas reached upward to
push the door open.
"Wait!" gasped Drussi, too late.
A blade slashed out of the ceiling, slicing down to gash Gilthanas's hand as he snapped it back.
He cursed and clapped a hand over the wound. "A second later and I'd have lost my hand."
"We have a trap to protect the door!" insisted Drussi.
"Most traps try to keep people from coming into a place," growled the elf. He looked at the cut, which did not
seem very deep. "Still, there was no real harm done."
"Not yet," said Spudder, shaking his head. "But wait until the poison takes effect...."