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And now, without further ado, is a scene from Part 7. Enjoy!
The wind had not been quite so strong when she left the inner-shore encampment a couple hours earlier. In fact, Raekira dy-Thannae had thought it a rather lovely day. The cloud cover had broken wide open for the first time since Rae was fourteen years old. It warmed up in the fresh dose of sunlight. She even thought, for a moment, she heard birds singing. But since she left camp, the sky had darkened again. Blackened. Flying out over the ocean was a death wish when the winds were gusting like this. And she could hear the storms approaching from outside.
Every day the Eighth Circle was tumbling closer. It was just a fact of life.
And that meant that the horrendous weather of the outer edges was working its way into the whole world. It had been for over a century now. Rae supposed the end of the world was going to come one way or another, so she tried not to let it bother her. Anyway, she didn’t remember what Coloterra was like before the skies fell inward.
The wind was cutting down from the clouds like knives. She had flown a hundred miles or more from the inner-shore encampment, so when a gust of wind, stronger than she had ever felt, came barreling toward her. It took hold of her wind-feet and she had no choice but to plummet.
Luckily for her, she had already reached her destination. Like a bullet shot from the black clouds, Rae plunged into the shallows of the surf. Control of her flight was lost. The water broke as she crashed through, raining down all around her. The sand below was soft, but not soft enough to make her crash a painless one. Coming up for air, she roared in frustration. Punching at the surface of the water, she tried to remember the last time she’d lost control like that since she’d mastered flight. Nothing came to mind.
Her anger began to dissipate as she realized where she was. Her eyes rested on the land, the tumbling wall of mist rising up all around her. When the wind hit it just right, the mist separated and Rae could see trees along the beach of Crystal Vine Province.
The island was a small one, and often left alone. The vines, namesake of the island, grew and sprawled out along the ground untamed and wild. She’d heard stories of this place all her life, how it was haunted and how it took hold of your abilities and threw them in your face. And the more powerful you were, they said, the more dangerous the island could be. Acaeths stayed away like it was cursed. Rae stood up straight in the shallow water, arranging the weapon on her back. “Well, you’re out of luck today, crystal vines,” she said with a smirk. “Because I don’t have any powers.”
No powers, that is, except the ones she had inherited in her weapon. All the acaeths her age were jealous. No one was supposed to learn their weapon trade until the end their sixteenth year. But Rae’s father had always treated her differently than most fathers treated their daughters. She still had six months to wait until then, but here sat Aesana, its smooth red body strapped comfortably to her back like an old companion. She figured it was because times were changing and her dad had always been forward-thinking. But that sounded like rubbish when she thought about it very hard. Besides, her father was the Rendarth of Thannae. He could do whatever he pleased.
She stomped her way out of the water and hesitated on the land. The wall of mist was hanging just before her now, resting in the air with a strange immunity to the high winds. Her hands were frozen on the harness that crossed her chest. She did not want to follow her father’s instructions. Not in this matter.
Raekira, her father’s stern voice rang in her head.
“Yeah! Alright, Dad! I’m leaving the damn thing.” With a huff, Rae threw the weapon and its case from her back. It fell into the sand. Its powers were too dangerous for the crystal mists of the island, her father had said. She couldn’t risk taking it on land with her. She stared at it for a moment in the sand, but couldn’t very well worry about it. No living thing was on this island with her, for starters. High tide was already in, and Aesana was hefty enough that no wind from heaven or hell could take her without Rae’s permission.
Without a moment’s delay, she stormed into the mist. She felt it knock at her head. It dizzied her like it was searching her body to find a strength to toy with. But that only made her laugh. “That’s why I’m here and not one of the others,” she said to mist as she walked farther inland. “You’ve got nothing to find.”
Are you on the island yet, Raekira?
Rae rolled her eyes, the strange blue trees of the island beginning to surround her. “Yes. How is your voice getting all the way out here? The weather’s terrible.”
I could lose you any minute. Solar flares will start up again soon. Be careful, my heart.
She scoffed. “Do you know me at all, Dad? Don’t be ridiculous.” A low branch the size of her forearm hung in her path. She took it tight in both hands and snapped it free, tossing it aside.
Get the stone and get out. We need its power right now.
She knew. She’d heard him say it a thousand times. “I’ll be home soon,” she said impatiently.
She waited for him to tell her one more time to be careful, that the stone was important, but the voice of her father was gone. All she could hear was the roar of the wind.
“It’s about time,” she muttered, kicking a rock out of her way. Speakers seemed to never get out of your head when you wanted them to, and she’d had to deal with that her whole life. It was always nice to get far enough away from her father that her head was silent and private.
Glancing around, she ran back to the shore, scooping Aesana up in her arms. She wasn’t about to leave her bow lying about on the beach. She looked over the ocean, back toward her home. She waited for her father’s rebuking voice, but it did not come.
Slinging the weapon over her back, she continued on in the quiet.
The cavern was in the dead center of the island, her father had said. Dead center, then climb inside. There’s only one way to go from there.
Lot of good this lump of rocks was, though. It didn’t look like anything, or anyone, had lived here in all of time. The legend of the island’s haunting probably had a lot to do with that. With a shiver, she pulled the long sleeves of her silver robe down over her hands. Something about this place was even colder than the world around it.
She wanted to fly. It was the one thing she had been able to learn, but her father had expressly forbid that too. He wasn’t big on letting her do what she wanted, not that it stopped her all that often. But there was something about this place that crept her out enough that she stuck to his advice and kept her feet planted on the ground. The strange blue vines which writhed around the island looked like something a child might have drawn, jagged and uneven as they encircled the trees, spilling out over the ground like a shredded carpet. It was a pain to walk through, for sure. After only a few minutes, Rae had stepped on enough of the squishy plants that her feet were turning blue.
Despite everything about the island she hated, it was small. It took her no time at all to reach the cavern in the center. She realized with a shadow of stupidity that the cave was going to be dark as pitch. And there was not a single light around for her to use. What in hell had her father expected her to do inside the cave, blind as a rock?
She kept on, nearing the dark mouth of the cave. “Straight down,” she whispered. Even the hisses of her whisper echoed back from the bowels of the earth. She glanced over the edge and into the pit.
“What’s that, then?” She couldn’t help but notice, as she had meant to look past her feet to see down into the earth, that something was glowing. She sat down there on the edge of the cavern and crossed her legs, grabbing her foot and pulling it close. The blue vine-goo was…luminescent.
“Of all the things to glow,” she muttered, standing back up. But it could have been worse, she decided. And it probably would get worse down in the cave before it got any better. She turned to face the tree behind her, its trunk wrapped in a mass of blue vines. With a deep breath, she punched forward with both hands, her knuckles breaking through the tough outer shell of the plant and landing in the soft interior. Glowing blue molasses-like goop oozed out. She lifted a lip as she pulled her hands free and shook the excess liquid off.
She looked back down into the darkness of the cavern. “Time to face the ghosties,” she grinned before leaping down into the black.
The blue light illuminated very little, and she was rather disappointed by how dark is still was. A moment later, her feet found the floor, and she crouched with her hands out to her sides to better see the cave before her.
From here, she had been told, the caves wound around like a sliith until they ended in the shrine of the stone. What no one had bothered to mention before now was the choices she would have to make; from the very start, the path diverged in two different directions.
“Snakes and bloody snakes,” she swore. “Thanks for all the help, Dad.”
She threw her gaze down one hall, then the other. It should be easy, she growled to herself. Just take a step in one direction and then go with it. It should be easy…
And suddenly, it was.
A light flashed somewhere down the left hall. Rae nearly jumped back for surprise, but focused on the place where she had seen the light: far off at a place where the corridor made a sharp turn deeper into the cave. The light of a torch danced around, and she could see the shadows shrinking. Whatever it was, it was coming closer.
A face peeked around the bend and beckoned her, a simple quick gesture, before disappearing around the bend of the cave again.
With only a breath more, Rae took off running down farther into the cave. Her blue glow made her nervous of the floor because she couldn’t see what was coming until she was right over it. She threw her nerves aside as best she could and kept her eye on the light ahead of her. She couldn’t lose the sight of a friendly torch. At least, she hoped it was friendly. She ran faster.
She threw herself around the turn, skidding to a stop when blank darkness met her sight. There was no sign of a torch-bearer.
Where did you go? she wondered, too afraid to speak aloud in the dark cave.
Rae began to take a step forward when pain shot through her mind and she fell to her knees, grabbing her ears and crying out into the black.
She saw a flash of memory, of her father handing her Aesana for the first time. The image was as clear as the day it happened. She could hear her father’s voice like he was standing beside her. “She’s yours now,” he said. “Use her fire wisely.”
Rae forced her eyes back open, which lurched her body forward onto the ground. She was back in the cave. “How strange.” It was like all of those things were happening again.
She stood up and, without much of a thought, pulled the bow around and held it in her glowing hands. How odd…
Its body shuddered.
With sudden rage, fire fountained from the weapon up into the high pillars of the cave. Rae screamed as it singed her hands, throwing the weapon out away from her. She fell back to her rump and pushed herself back against the wall, watching the fire pour from the bow, eating itself up in the air.
The bow skid across the cave floor until it landed in a pool of water, sizzling out with a snarl of hissing steam.
The brief light had been nice, and as Rae stood back up, she wished it was back again so she could find her way back to Aesana. She called out to it as she hurried all but blindly across the floor.
Her glowing hands found the steam. She reached into the pool and pulled the bow out, rubbing it on her clothes. “I’m so sorry, Aesana. I’m so sorry!” She didn’t mind her clothes being wet if it meant her weapon was dry. But the water had killed the glowing sap from her hand, so one of her four light sources was gone.
“What the hills was that? You lost control of yourself for a moment.” She carefully put the bow back into its holster.
What did you say…? What did you say…?
Rae jumped, glancing around the dark cave. Was that—a child’s voice? The voice had been strange and distant, its words echoing all around in a loop.
“Hello?” Rae called out. Had the torch-bearer been a child? No. No it had most definitely been an adult. An acaeth. Rae had seen the look on its face. “Are you okay? Where are you?”
What did you say to me…? say to me…?
Rae jumped again. “Keep talking to me,” she said. “I’ll come find you. Do you have a torch?”
The cave replied only with silence.
Come on, then, Ben. We have to follow Father… follow Father… follow Father…
“Hello!” Rae called out. “Are you lost?”
Then she felt her legs jerk out from under her again, squealing as she lost balance and fell to her knees. She felt the heat on her back as fire shot out from Aesana again, filling the room behind her. Her own shadow stretched out before her. Her eyes flew over the cavern before her, her breath gone.
For a brief moment the cave before was full of oblivious people, like a thin crowd standing about in a lobby. They didn’t seem to notice her, or even each other. No one spoke. Eyes stared. And most of them weren’t moving at all. Rae tried to call out to them, curiosity and confusion flooding her mind.
But before she could say anything to them, she lurched forward again. She cried out as her body fell through the floor and into darkness.