Elenie and Ieaun had gone through a portal from Winterdream's icy realm and emerged in a bleak, depressing land. Everything seemed to be in shades of grey and black, only occasionally "enlivened" by occasional dark reds which weren't really any better than the blacks and greys; half the plants seemed to be dead or dying and the weather was grim and miserable. As dusk began to fall, they crested a hill and found themselves looking down on a castle.
They rode on for a while, winding their way carefully through the hills and keeping a careful eye out for any signs of life. After a while, they came to a small deserted park and Ieaun suggested that they pause here briefly.
"That castle we saw up ahead? That's the one in my visions, which means we need to be ultra careful now."
"We've found it at last? That's where he's holding my mother prisoner to set a trap for me?" Elenie took a deep breath and looked around; "It's getting dark, I'm not sure I want to try sneaking in there at night; what do you say to sleeping here overnight and approaching the castle in the morning?"
"I think that's probably a good idea, it seemed quite dark in the visions and I have the feeling it was night, or close to night, so anything we do differently is good. I'll try and see again tonight and in the morning we can talk about the details and try to find other points where we can change what I saw."
They pitched a small tent and, leaving the unicorns on guard, crawled in to try and sleep.
The morning dawned all too soon and brought with it an eerie red glow. As the two of them emerged from the tent, they found that they had visitors waiting for them; a red fox and her cub. Elenie crouched down to allow the fox to sniff her hand and realised that she recognised her - it was the fox they had rescued from wolves back in one of the forests they had ridden through earlier in their quest.
"I told you that you would see me again. I have not forgotten that you saved me and my cub from the wolves and I have come to help you with your quest."
Elenie gravely thanked the fox for coming to their aid now and straightened up to talk to Ieaun about their plan for getting into the castle.
"I've been thinking about the details in my visions and, after seeing the castle itself, all of them start with you entering the castle through the front gate and then cut to you facing Nicodur in what looks like a great hall of some sort. From what I know of castles the great hall is often the first room you come to when entering the main door so I think it's imperative that we don't enter the castle through there - we need to try and avoid the great hall if at all possible."
"Ok, so avoid the main door and the great hall. What about where my mother is being held? We need to find that without going through the main door or great hall."
"From what I saw, she's in some sort of cell where there are no windows. The most likely place would be in the dungeons, but there wasn't much to identify the area - just a cell off a corridor, lighted by flaming torches."
"Right, so we get into the castle by a back way, search the dungeons and hope we find her there. Otherwise we're going to have search the entire place whilst avoiding the great hall where you think my evil stepfather is."
"Something like that, but Elenie, I promise you, if it's at all within my power I won't let him kill you. No matter what it takes."
They struck camp and mounting the unicorns, rode slowly towards the castle. As the sun rose higher, the eerie red light began to fade back to more normal shades, but the place remained just as bleak and apparently lifeless.
Having come close to the castle, they decided it would be best to approach by foot from hereon; the unicorns wouldn't be able to enter the castle in any event and riding any closer would just make them larger targets to be detected.
At this point, the fox barked sharply to get their attention. When Elenie looked down at her she said "I think this is where I come in. If we can find a suitable spot I can dig a tunnel into the dungeons, and don't worry, it won't take me nearly as long as you might think."
Elenie turned to Ieaun; "What do you think? Hopefully digging a tunnel will be something he won't have thought of when he laid this trap for us..."
"It seems like a good shot, you go with the fox, and I'll take a scout round the outside of the building to see if I can find a back way in; although I think your mother's in the dungeons, I can see a number of towers which would also be good places for imprisoning someone."
The two of them embraced and separated, Elenie following the foxes, while Ieaun carefully approached the side of the castle to look for another way in.
The mother fox led Elenie around one side of the castle and underneath a bridge to a small graveyard where she began to dig a hole with the assistance of her cub.
Elenie watched as the hole grew larger and deeper, and the foxes disappeared into the depths of it.
Eventually, the foxes came out of the hole, which was by now somehow larger than Elenie herself. The mother fox barked "There you go, one tunnel down into the dungeons. Are you coming?" as she dived back into the hole, leaving Elenie little option but to follow her.
The tunnel was long and winding, sloping steeply down most of the way, but after some time Elenie and the foxes emerged into a long corridor underground. It was dark and lit only with blazing torches, just as Ieaun had described from his vision and Elenie felt her heart jump in hope.
She followed the corridor along, accompanied by the foxes until she saw an occupied cell up ahead. Recognising her mother, despite her rags and generally battered appearance, she began to run towards the cell door.
As she ran, she heard a cry "watch out! There are traps!" but just slightly too late as fire sprang up around her.
She sprang backwards immediately, fortunately avoiding any serious damage. As she jumped back from the flames, they died down as quickly as they had appeared, revealing a trap which had lain hidden until she had run across it.
Elenie crouched down and began to examine the trap, then carefully began to fiddle with the mechanism to see if she could find a way to disarm it.
Her first attempt however only succeeded in triggering the trap again and she had to rapidly pull her arm back in order to prevent herself from being burned. She looked around the corridor, but there had been no turnings until the one up ahead beyond the fire trap and she knew that somehow she would need to get past it.
Back above ground, Ieaun had scouted around the outside of the castle and had found only one way in without going through the main gate - a bridge across from some higher ground to the upper levels of the castle. Looking around the area he decided to explore the upper levels.
Having crossed the bridge, he had gone through a small tower room, and across another walkway to the main building. Going through the door however, he found himself in the upper level of the great hall, where below him he could see Nicodur talking to a face in a mirror. As he turned to leave, he heard a woman's voice shriek "They're here, find them!"