Author’s Note: A bit late, but this is a long one.
“When you just stare into nothing. No wishes; no dreams. And as your eyes finally droop to a close, there is only… silence”
Yara gazed in the distant blue sky. She blinked, and it hurt. She tried to speak- to move her head, but she could not. Her eyes shifted right and then left, watching the blurry grey cliff faces sweat from the surrounding mist. The gorge she laid in was dim and dark, the only sense of light from above.
She heard a patter, like the crawling of a critter, so loud, but soft to her ear. More and more sounds popped up as a thick acrid smoke melded with the wet air. She coughed, her lungs a slow soft wheeze, a rasp in her chest. What happened? She wondered, her mind drawing a blank. She smacked her lips. They were dry. He throat was dry. Water… But she could not move, could not reach towards the thick pouch, which held her canteen, that now numbed her side.
And then she blinked.
The sounds of dragging and slithering grew closer; the soft scurry of crawling and creeping. Shadows shifted in her peripherals. She heard a cough somewhere but an abrupt crunch echoed out, curtailing that gruff breath.
Suddenly, the sounds of dying flames, and whimpering wails broke through. It was is parts of the world, formerly hidden from her senses slowly wove themselves to reality. What is this?
It took her a moment as she laid there, the memories slowly sifting its way back into her conscious. And in realization, her lips parted as a long sigh passed through; her voice croaked as she forced out a word, the answer to the questions that rang over and over in her mind, “Fate.”
3 hours ago.
“What is that?” Delias heard Daniel ask. “And where did you get all those crystals?”
Daniel had been pushing his nose into seeing what Delias had been making, but Delias had no plans to explain anything yet. He would say when he was finally done, and not a moment before. There was just not enough time. He had to make sure this was done now as he could always explain later.
Before him, each and every one of his clothes were now stitched with a few crystals in. There were all in places where he could easily reach and grab at if he needed to, potentially creating a light crystal suit. That way he would glow wherever he went, and for what he was planning, he would likely need to. Whether he did or not, either way, it was best to be safe than sorry. Especially since running around with a bag filled with heavy crystals may not always be an option.
Taking a look at the sky, the sun a bleeding orange, dying the land in a golden hue as it dipped its head for sleep, Delias’s thoughts focused. We’re out of time.
Standing up, Delias looked at what he had. From the moment he met Daniel, and it became inevitable that they were going after Cotter, Delias went to work on a few tools.
Leaning back, he looked at them, admiring his work. There were four short staffs, about a foot long laying on the ground before him. Each were carved out at the ends from the knife he had in his bag. Delias imbedded a crystal in those carved out areas, securing them with twine from the rags and other cloth he collected on his way to the gateway. That was not to mention the light crystal suit he made.
“Instead of working on this, why not just help me help my brother?” Daniel spoke up again. Delias had been ignoring him, but he was apparently unwilling to relent, regardless of Delias’s occasion ‘just be patient talk’. “We should be coming up with a practical plan. There is not much time left, and they’ll surely be heading for the gateway. At that moment, any chance we ever had of sneaking up on them will disappear. I mean look- ” Daniel swept his arm around, “look around you. There is cover. There will be darkness. But if they pass that gateway, not only do we not know if we will get such an opportunity as we have now again, they just might kill my brother if he turns out to be too much baggage.
Delias gritted his teeth. “You’re annoying, you know that?”
“I have a brother to save.” He retorted back.
“Stop with the bull. I’m not stupid or easy to mess with. Your logic is crooked and you know it. Why did they capture your brother? Why haven’t they killed him already, let him go, or find some other use for him? Isn’t it obvious? They don’t know how to get out the realm. They’re trying to lure you or us for information.”
Daniel’s lips twisted in a scowl. He grew quiet, but his eyes never turned from Delias’s own. “I know. I’ve thought along those lines, and though I also know it may be a trap, it doesn’t change the fact that he is my brother, and they are slowly killing him. I’ve seen the way they had beaten him ruthlessly today. I can’t imagine what it was like for the entire week and a half he’s been with them. And yes, we are a likely target, and even though there were probably others who could be as well, we are the most obvious. You and Skylar entered the realm first. You both did it as if you never questioned that your safety would be in jeopardy. That can give people strange ideas. But… It’s too much of a stretch isn’t it? They’re over a week earlier than other students have been in the past, almost two weeks in fact. If it was usual, no one would have come here until a months time has passed. I’ve heard the stories from other, much more smaller groups. It should have taken us a month to find a few keys and to come here. The only reason it hasn’t is because no one is looking for the keys anymore. They have realized something is wrong. But regardless of that, to stop looking for the keys so early and to just target us… ” Daniel went silent. He did not need to finish the thought. Delias Knew exactly where he was going with it. The whole situation didn’t make much sense. To risk losing out in finding keys… Even if they couldn’t find any keys after so long, they still had time. Why risk moving to the gateway?
“I don’t know what they’re planning. I don’t know what they know or don’t know, or what they think they know or think they don’t know. All I know is Cotter is out there, and I got a plan. And you asking me every second on what I am doing and driving me to act sooner than possible isn’t going to help. I can feel that the other groups out there are restless. This right here may be an obvious trap for us, but it’s a bad position for them. They pushed the group here and way too early. There in a position in which no keys would ever be placed here, at least not in a large amount. If I were from those other groups, I would think that Cotter’s captors have keys. Either that, or they know what’s going on and have a plan to resolve it. And if that’s the case, they’ll surely attack soon, and your brother will surely die or fall into another’s hands.
“So what? Wait until they attack, and we save my brother in the confusion?” Daniel asked. He nodded to himself as if the plan seemed simple and yet solid, but you could see the restlessness in his eyes. He won’t wait.
Delias shook his head. Couldn’t wait even if I wanted to. Not with them behind me. “We’re not going to wait. We attack tonight.” We can’t wait until they make a move.. But you won’t say anything, would you. You got what you wanted Daniel. Now follow me!
After a long moment, Daniel spoke. “Alright. But then what’s with all this?” Daniel gestured with his chin to all the staffs and altered clothing he had made. “What’s the plan?”
“This makes sure we don’t die tonight.”
Delias could feel Daniel’s gaze. Ever since he repulsed the wraiths away with the crystal, he knew he was being followed. It was like he could sense the aura of death at his heels. And at first he did not know what it was. It took him a couple of days, but when he almost ran into them from when he had slowed his pace from at some point or another, he finally realized it. They can sense me too. And they’ve been persistent in following that sense. Especially that one that wanted to kill me earlier. They think me like that white one… But… Delias smiled. This was actually a good thing. Considering how the wraiths only travelled at night, Delias had kept ahead of them. He led them forward, leaving a half a day gap between, and he maintained that distance.
Delias had known that he would need the wraiths sooner or later. They were useful against the creatures he ran into in the forest. And although the plan he had spun at the time resulted in him being injured for a time, he still got away with his life.
Furthermore, Delias was alone; Cotter was captured. He needed help. Daniel needed help. And the two of them together could not do a darn thing. You’re going to hunt me? Well, I’ll just put you to use.
“It’s almost night. I’ll go over the plan, and-” Delias looked over towards the staffs and clothes, “I’ll enlighten you just how important these things are.”
A large roaring bang rang through the air. The ground rumbled, and the trees creaked.
Yara’s eyes snapped open. At the same time hers did, Nargul, who had been laying down not far away, stumbled to the side, slowly getting up as he braced himself.
“They’re here.” Nargul breathed, a mixed look of joy and pain plastered on his face, but Yara could see his feet were rooted to the ground.
Yara scowled. “It could be anyone, doesn’t change the fact that we are being attacked. We need to move! Plan A!” Yara ran out of the tent, ignoring Nargul. Outside everyone was jumping out of their tents or shuffling about. There were quite a few of them now, but still, all were alert, and no one had slacked off as they had grown in numbers.
Averati bustled about, following the plan Yara had given, and in that moment, Yara couldn’t help but think, I knew you would come. Not for a moment did she believe she was being attacked by other groups. It was a gut feeling that the averati she knew had come to save his brother. If you didn’t come, you wouldn’t have been the one I… Yara closed her eyes and took a breath.
“Everyone up and out. Form a perimeter, tighten it. I want everyone rearing to move out now!” She roared. She saw no flames; heard no fighting. And after that large earth shaking, everything seemed normal. But even though she did not know what Daniel had planned, she was not going to be caught unawares. If you want your brother, you have to put on a good show for me. I will not make this easy!
The camp people listened and moved with ease. They were all accustomed to some forms of fighting by now, and most of all, those that survived until now were those that were more battle tested, and used to situations of that nature. So in moments, the tents were abandoned and tens of prospective Crawfields students were lined up at the center.
“We’re moving out-” But just as she finished that last bit, a bloody wail tore through the air. Her heart lurched, and her feet felt shaky. Wraiths!
She did not need to turn around and see the faces of the others to know how they felt. Each and everyone of them hid, ran, or fought against the wraiths from before. The death toll had been high, and the lasting effects were terrifying. Everyone was scared.
Yara’s eyes searched around the camp, but saw nothing. There’s no sign of them. In fact, as she thought on it, even though she did not know what caused the large boom earlier, she realized the initial impact in itself did not seem to come from nearby.
I don’t like this.
“Move!” She roared a command, gesturing for the group to navigate up towards the hill, closer to the gateway. We may be trapping ourselves, putting our backs against the gateway to whatever comes, but I will have Nargul. Even if the others can’t get out, I will! To Yara, if the wraiths came, they came. And in the midst of the chaos they were sure to bring, the objective of her and Nargul’s last resort would have been fulfilled. With chaos, using Nargul’s method, they would escape and not have the elders despise them. A simple plan, but simple was always best.
Yara glanced around and caught Nargul deep within the camp group. When did he? The averati male appeared to be a leader among them, feigning direction, but Yara knew better. Coward. If it was him… But she stopped herself. I can’t think of him now.
In a few minutes the group had run up to the shallow hill, and were looking out over towards the dense forest surrounding the shallow grassland. A glance back, and there they saw Cotter still holed up in his cage. The door was ajar, Jargul off to the side, and a few others who were on watch this night there with him. Looking at him, it was easy to notice the permanent scowl on his face. As his eyes shifted, a hot glare was directed Yara’s way. Damn Northerner.
Yara narrowed her eyes. She knew something had happened and it was not because of the recent situation, but she could not pay it any heed at the moment. Cotter was still alive, but they were all in danger now. You may have no use now anyway… She looked back across the camp, but again there was still nothing. No movement, no sound.
A chill ran down her spine.
She could feel the coldness in the air, the eerie tension, and from the shifting feet, she knew that the others could feel it too.
Suddenly, a figure ran from the dark canopy of the forest from the left, and out in the open.
It was a male, and he stopped after a few yards.
For some reason, Yara found herself stepping forward, as if she were going to see what was going on, but she stopped herself. Moonlight shone across the hill and the area around it. It illuminated the distant face of the male that just ran out of the shadows.
He’s not one of us. What the hell is going on?
She had doubts now. She thought it was Daniel until she heard the wail. She thought it was wraiths, but they weren’t being attacked by wraiths else they would have been fighting right now.
Another bang roared. Orange lights began to dot the sky behind the trees. Fire. And another wail echoed. More and more wails came from the distant south, and surely not where the male averati who just came from the forest appeared from.
“A different group is being attacked!” A voice called out.
As soon as she thought that, more and more figures popped out of the forest from the left. They ran, coming to a halt. Soon, some started coming from the right. Wails began popping from all around them.
Yara’s face paled. She knew what this meant. She thought they would have time. That the groups wouldn’t come over to them so soon. And maybe in other circumstances she would have been right. But this time… The wraiths are attacking them from all sides. They are pushing them here!
Why would they do this? The wraiths were so far from the stalagmites that is was mind boggling.
“Why would they leave the stalagmites? Why would they come here?” But there was no one to answer her question. The people around here remained silent. They too, realized the crux of the situation. They were backed against a locked gate. And all the other groups were running towards them from every direction as they were attacked by monsters at their backs.