Marxus and the others kept looking at their watches realizing we’ve been in the cave for three hours now and they all began to think the worst with no communication. Worried, Marxus stepped toward a small puddle of water and knelt down, waving his hands over it. He closed his eyes concentrating for a moment then opened them, staring into the stillness of the water.
Sarah growing curious, started taking a few steps toward Marxus but Jonathan gently grabbed her arm shaking his head. Images began appearing in the reflective surface, of Erik and I walking as we came across the final course. Everyone slowly stepped closer near Marxus, quietly peeking their heads over his shoulder trying to see what he saw. He looked over his shoulders on both sides and smiled then commented,
“They’re fine and since all of you are so curious, I’ll show you see what I see.” he waved his hands once more over the water; images suddenly appearing for them.
Nathan of course sat on one of the platforms, smoking another cigarette, giving everyone a leery stare. He blew smoke in their direction remaining silent without a care in the world.
“SO WHAT?” he thought, “IF SHE DIES WITH THE VAMPIRE, ALONG WITH HER BLOODY DOG…SO BE IT. THAT’S ONE FLOWER I NEVER HAD THE CHANCE TO PLUCK.”
The images remained long enough for the others to see we were safe before fading. As everyone backed away, Marxus continued watching when suddenly, a burst of flame replaced the images and within it…a horned female demon masked within the flames.
“You…fool!” a female voice entered Marxus’ mind in a strong guttural tone.
Marxus jumped to his feet as he backed away, startled for he has never seen something so threatening. And he’s seen a lot during his time. He glanced around, seeing everyone was occupied with their own thoughts as they paced.
Walking toward the cave’s entrance staring up at the clouded sky, Marxus wondered if maybe the figure may have been a demonic guardian. Glancing out across the landscape below he thought, “AN ANCESTOR, PERHAPS? AFTER ALL, SHE IS PART DEMON, SO IS IT POSSIBLE? I NEED TO INVESTIGATE THIS FURTHER IF I’M TO LEAVE RAVENSTONE IN HER CAPABLE HANDS.”
Erik and I followed the tunnel for ten minutes talking, when we entered a large cavern. Examining the area, there were six torch sconces jutting out from the wall, lining both sides. Erik inspecting them closer with his flashlight,he noticed they were soaked with oil.To be sure of that theory, he touched the torch with his index finger then rubbed his two fingers together, stating so.
“Are we supposed to light them?” I asked.
“I imagine that’s what they’re for.” he replied.
“Funny.” we searched the ground for small rocks to spark a flame.
“Maybe we have to say something.” I said after we came up empty handed.
“Like what?” Erik inquired arrogantly.
“I don’t know. Something that means fire because it’s obvious.”
“Something that means fire, right.” He then looked at me, and turned his head. I said nothing, but caught the expression.
Erik like all vampires, was able to speak any language of any culture once heard, so he thought of words or a phrase that might ignite the torches. I leaned against a large rock, regaining my strength watching him for ten minutes speak any language he could think of.
“Nothing. I give up.” Erik said, leaning next to me with his arms folded.
“Well, it’s got to be something. Maybe, and I know this is a far out idea, this cavern responds to someone who speaks Spanish.” I replied as I looked up at him, “Can you speak Spanish?”
“No. I haven’t heard the language too often to know its dialect. Except from Marxus occasionally, and Roberto in Penrith. How about you?”he glanced down at me.
“I know a bit.” as I thought of phrases, but nothing happened so I stuck to simple words.
Fuego = fire
Llama = flame
Fuego = blaze
Luz = light
Ilumniar = enlighten
Inflamar = enflame
Inflamar el fuego = enflame the fire
As soon as I said the last words Inflamar el fuego, the torches suddenly ignited in high flames illuminating the entire area. Sparks and embers erupted from the torches then faded as the air extinguished them.
“Wow!” Erik admired sarcastically, “Did you tap into your demonic nature?”
“I don’t know, maybe.” I replied, “I just thought of words that meant fire, then boom!” I gestured my hands explosively.
Erik thought momentarily then muttered as he grew a smile,
“There’s only one person that speaks Spanish other than you, who might have a hand in this whole thing. Are you sure you’re not a witch?”
“No, I’m not a witch!” I snapped.
We examined the area with proper lighting noticing the walls were rough cut except for one area that was smooth and solid. Erik and I approached running our hands over the surface. However, as Erik did, he suddenly felt a burning sensation run through his hand, up his arm and through his entire body before being thrown across the cavern, hitting the rough walls. Falling to the ground, I ran over seeing the burns he suffered from jumping into the pit of water back the way we came, reappear; intensified tens times over. He moaned in pain as he curled himself in a ball; eyes squinted closed.
“Erik!” I screamed out as I ran to him, falling to my knees, “Oh, my god…are you alright!? Really, Yzavela…that’s so stupid.”
“No, I’m not.” he muttered in extreme discomfort, “Something’s...wrong.” he rolled over onto his back, eyes remaining closed.
“I...don’t know. I laid my hand on the wall and then....well, this.” he answered, “Keeps...I’ve touched iron before, but...nothing like this ever happened. That’s not…normal iron.”
I turned, glancing at the wall thinking this was all some sick joke Marxus once again, had set. Zanz scampered around, taking in different scents and as he grew too close to the wall, I called him over; not wanting him to suffer injuries himself.
“Here...sit up.” I urged as I leaned him against the wall. “Come on...”
He moaned as I laid my hands on his upper arms, helping him lean back. Taking off my jacket, I rolled it up placing it behind his head, trying to create at least some form of comfort.
“Keeps...come on.” he argued, “You’re cold and it’s damp. I don’t need your jacket. Put it back on...please.” as he tried handing it back to me.
“No!” I retaliated, “You listen to me. You saved my life back there so let me repay the favor. Twice.” as I placed my jacket behind his head once more, “Don’t argue with me. Now sit there and don’t move.” I frowned as I stood, facing the wall.
“Yeah, right...I saved you back there, and you almost killed me. Just great!” he argued.
Erik leaned his head back, watching as I stepped closer to the smooth surface. His eyes felt heavy as his vision blurred.
Ignoring his comment, I stared at the smooth slate, reluctant to lay my hands upon it but taking in a deep breath and holding it, I quickly placed them on the surface. Releasing my breath, I tried my best examining the wall in the torch light and the only thing I could reveal about it, was that it’s crafted of an older iron alloy. The thought went through my mind that when Erik laid his hands on the slate, it created a defense mechanism to avoid unwanted entry, making it specifically for the Keeper’s touch. I turned back to Erik, whose head hung low; breathing shallow. I ran over holding his head up, noticing darker shadows under his eyes had returned.
“Erik…” I pleaded softly, “you should go back and wait with the others. All of this iron is making you sick.”
“What!?” he mumbled as he stared into my eyes, “And leave you here alone to fall into another hole? I don’t think so. Besides, I don’t think I could make it back anyway. Not like this. And even if I did, you’re coming with me. You don’t look too good either, love.”
“I’m serious. Erik, please...”
“I’ll be fine. Don’t worry.” he snapped not meaning to, then glanced over my shoulder examining the wall from a distance, leaning his head back once more, “You need to finish this bloody quest.”
“Easier said than done.” I replied quietly as I sat beside him, leaning against the wall breathing heavily; moaning in discomfort as I felt nauseous once more, along with fatigue that suddenly rushed over me.
Zanz scampered over, laying beside me resting his head in my lap. Petting his head, I hummed a soft tune that soothed his nerves. Erik too, took notice of the calming and soothing tone in my voice.
He looked from me then toward the wall, watching something etch itself onto the surface.Not knowing what it might be, he gently tapped my shoulder, pointing toward the wall. I followed his gaze over toward the smooth surface, seeing what his vampire vision took notice of.
“Help me up, Keeps.” Erik mumbled as he glanced at me.
“Erik...” I answered.
Hesitating for a moment as I stared into his pale gray eyes, I agreed. After helping him to his feet, he slowly shuffled over, leaning against one of the large boulders, staring at the wall. Examining it closer, he watched as the etchings became a language all too familiar to him. Chinese lettering started etching itself, telling another riddle like the ones in the past. We watched in amazement, as it finished etching in flames.
“I know this language. My father taught it to me. It’s Chinese.”
“I thought it looked familiar.” I replied, “What does it say?”
“It’s a riddle of some kind.”
“Saying what exactly?”
YOUR JOURNEY ENDS-
AND A NEW ONE BEGINS-
PLACE THE DIRECTIONAL ITEM-
AND WATCH IT SPIN.
After reading it aloud, two holes appeared beneath the riddle. Two different sizes; one larger than the other. Erik weakly gestured at the door and observed,
“Looks like we’re supposed to insert something, but what?”
I stared at the riddle thinking about the last two rows repeatedly in my head. Reaching into my jean pocket,I retrieved the compass which started spinning out of control. Looking at the wall I revealed in a confident tone,
“Marxus gave me this before we entered the cave saying I might need it for something. What better time to see if it works? Besides, we have no other choice. We’re getting worse.” as I examined his face with strands of hair hanging over his forehead.
“I know.” he muttered.
“Mm.” I slurred as I reached out, placing it in the appropriate hole in the wall, which fit perfectly.
Erik and I stepped back, hoping something would happen, but...nothing. He then pointed out the fact that we forgot to insert whatever fit in the other hole. I walked over, noticing the other hole matched the size of a pendant or medallion. “IT CAN’T BE.” I thought, remembering Marxus giving me the pendant.
I took it from around my neck and lowered my flashlight ready to insert it.
“What are you doing? We don’t know if that’s the right key or what it’ll do if it’s not.” Erik objected as he lowered my hand.
“It’s the only thing I see around here. Have faith, Erik.” I replied.
“F*** faith, Keeps. Look where it got us. We had faith in Marxus, right?”
He was right. And oh, was Marxus ever going to get it when we get out of here.
He said nothing more as I inserted the pendant. Once placing it in its proper place, I tried saying the word KEY in Marxus′ Spanish dialect, but it didn’t seem to budge as I turned it.So thinking back when I asked him if my Spanish would work for something like this, I tried.
“LA TECLA” I proclaimed giving it a strong turn to the right.
A loud CLICK; sounds of wheels turning, could be heard from within the walls. They turned and spun then locked in place, triggering something within causing the door to shake the ground beneath our feet.Without warning it pushed inward; air decompressed with steam spitting from tiny holes along the edges of the door frame. We glanced at each other then back at the door, watching as the stone slab lifted upward into the arched frame, disappearing into the rock wall above. There were no seams, no cracks, nothing. It was as if the door was never there.
The compass and pendant fell to the ground; serving their purpose.
“Strange much?” I said, picking up both objects placing them in my jean pockets.
“Strange isn’t the right word.” Erik complained as he released another moan.
The tall, wide doorway led into pitch blackness. Zanz howled as he approached the doorway,then backed away as if afraid. Sensing something,he wasn’t about to venture inside.
“What do you think is in there?” Erik spoke in a weakened tone.
“I don’t know.” I replied as I looked up at him, “Erik...”
Poor Erik looked worse than before as the shadows under his eyes grew darker. He didn’t look like the healthy vampire I knew. I was really worried at this point, that I was going to lose him.
“Please don’t ask!” Erik barked as he glanced down at me then realizing his tone he apologized, “Keeps, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean...”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s fine.” I snapped, “Just…go ahead of me, so I know you’re alright.” I gestured toward the blackness before us.
He hesitated with a frown, before stepping through, disappearing inside. Waiting a few seconds, I heard his voice then instructed Zanz to go ahead of me. Reluctant, he whined as he ran through leaving me behind. I stared at the doorway and blackness ahead of me then took a step forward. However once taking that step, a force of unknown origins kept me from passing through as I stood frozen in place while a strong energy surrounded me.
“Erik…” I hollered out in fear, seeing his form appearing ahead.
He turned, watching as I remained in a suspended state when he too, saw the energy surround me. Faint fire waves appeared within the doorway, looking as if they belonged in a plasma energy ball, attracted to my figure.
I felt the sensation of pins and needles yet again, throughout my entire body that lasted for no more than a few seconds, before releasing me. I fell to the ground as if pushed forward, granting me passage. I knelt on my knees breathing heavily, steaming in a more intense aura. I raised my gaze toward Erik who stood worried and terrified, wanting to help me from the ground but hesitated, unsure if his hands would burn on my skin. Zanz approached, giving my face a quick lick as if the steam held no effect against him.
“Keeps… what happened!?” Erik questioned, watching as the steam faded.
“I don’t know.” I answered as I slowly stood from the ground, “What the hell…” I examined my hands, feeling the fading sensation.
I closed my fists then glanced around taking notice torches had ignited themselves around a large chamber with sand covering the ground, revealing the most unexpected thing.
The silhouette of a man stood with his back facing us, mumbling to himself about nonsensical things.He had long gray hair tied back, dressed in a long worn black coat; standing behind an antique wooden desk. Old papers and scrolls; crumbling or torn, covered the surface. Seeing the scrolls reminded me of Billy’s office in White-haven. There were trunks, chests and bookshelves placed all along the walls of this cavern in a semi-circular pattern. He had boxes filled with mysterious items, candles and crystals placed in different areas of the bookshelves and on his desk. The light from the flames reflected off the crystals giving the cave more of a soft Amber glow. We stood there continuing to look around, cautiously examining our surroundings with tired eyes. The man stood there continuing to mumble to himself then stopped,as he faced us.
“Oh, hello there my lovelies. Can I help you?” he greeted in a friendly voice.
“I don’t know.” I replied focusing my attention on the man, “Can you?”
I took a good look at the man’s face as he took steps around his desk, toward us. His skin was pale; late 60s with gray strands of hair hanging in his face and stood a little over six feet tall. Running down the right side of his face and neck were mysterious tattooed runic symbols.
“Please, come closer.” he said holding his hands out, “Let me look at you.”
As I stepped closer with Erik not too far behind I noticed white eyes, indicating he was blind. I wondered how he was able to survive in here without food, water or much less anything else.
“Don’t worry about me, lovely. I’ve been here for centuries and have survived very well, thank you.” he revealed as if reading my thoughts,“But I was waiting for the one who would come and release me. I was called here by a very powerful individual to help you with your quest, which I see you’ve already completed.”
“If you say so.” I mumbled as I turned, glancing back at Erik who sat on one of the trunks near the door then looked back at the man who also stared in his direction.
He gestured for me to lean in, so he could whisper in my ear,
“He doesn’t look good. Is he well?”
“No.” I replied glancing back with worry, “He touched the door that led us here and now...I don’t know what’s wrong with him. He’s a vampire and all this iron...”
“I’m fine.” Erik added sharply.
The man raised an eyebrow.
“Give me just a moment." the man returned to his desk, shifting through everything.
“I’m sorry but what do you have to do with her last test?” Erik curiously asked.
“I am her last test.” the man answered, “Ah, here we go.” he turned, holding a large black roughly cut chunk of black slate flecked with Amber and also a piece of broken mirror wrapped in cloth under his arm, “Before you receive these gifts, you have something for me as a payment, yes?” he continued as he laid them down on his desk.
“I’m not sure I have anything.” I replied as I patted my pockets, “I’m sorry but we left our bags and things outside.”
“Look carefully in your jean pockets, my lovely.” the man whispered.
I put my hands in my pockets, retrieving a stick of wet gum, the compass, pendant and the gold coin Marxus handed me before entering the cave.
“The only things I have are a flashlight, gum, a pendant, compass and coin.” I said holding the items in my hand, “Take your pick.”
“I have torches for light. I never cared for gum.No need for a pendant and I’m blind, lovely. What would I need a compass for?” he replied humorously, “Now the coin, is what I seek.”
I looked back at Erik who leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees holding his right hand up to his head. I turned looking back at the man placing the items back in my pockets except for the coin, which I handed to the man. As soon as the coin fell into the palm of his left hand, he pulled his hand away examining it with his fingers. He quickly bit down on it as if testing its quality then let out a small HMM, then threw it over his shoulder.It landed on the ground making that tinkling sound of metal hitting the stone surface of the floor.
Turning his back, he again shifted through his things. I looked around behind his desk and not seeing the coin anywhere I focused my attention quickly on Zanz who walked around sniffing at everything within the cave. Hearing faint grunts of discomfort, I turned again, looking back at Erik who managed to stand on weakened legs. However, as he tried taking a few steps forward, he collapsed to his knees.
“Erik...” I ran over, “ oh God, Erik!”
The man turned to us again sensing Erik had collapsed.
“Poor, lovely boy. All this iron is weakening you. Isn’t that right vampire?” he whispered.
Erik looked up, seeing several images of the man spinning around.Feeling extremely dizzy, he asked as he closed his eyes taking in a few deep breaths,
“How did...you know that...I wasa...”
“Vampire? I know many things. Besides, her bite marks gave you away...and she sort of mentioned it.” he replied, “I know just the thing that’ll help you with your weakness; not just now but permanently. It’ll block ALL the effects of iron and Vervain that you come in contact with.” he turned once more, sifting through the boxes and chests laying around until finding what he sought for.Holding a small black pillbox, he turned to us opening it, asking if there were two horse pill-sized red and black capsules inside. When I answered yes, he told me to remove one and hand it to Erik. However, sensing my concern and hearing the emotional tone in my voice as I spoke to Erik, he urged for us to hear important words spoken in another riddle:
Bound by blood;
Brought together by fate.
They have now crossed the gate;
Put all fears and doubts to rest.
With immortality as its best;
Both have now accomplished their task.
Time to reveal, now remove the mask;
Together nor apart, your bond won’t diminish.
But one of your lives, will come to a finish.
“What does that mean?” I asked as Erik leaned his upper body against my chest.
“You’ll find out soon; though you’ve already found out.” the man vaguely answered, “Be quick about it, now. I sense he doesn’t have much time.” then he stepped away, walking toward his desk.
“Here.” I said as I handed it to him.
Erik argued pushing my hand away,
“I’m not taking that. It’s too f***ing big.”
“Listen you stubborn jackass. This will save your life. Either you take it or I’ll have to shove it down your throat. If you won’t do it for yourself...then do it for me. Please...”
Erik looked up at me watching as I nodded my head, knowing I would do it if I had to. The man walked over handing me a cup of water as I handed Erik the pill. Examining its color, Erik reluctantly placed the pill in his mouth swallowing it. The taste was unlike anything Erik had ever tasted.He made a face of utter disgust, sticking his tongue out a few times licking his bottom lip.
“Ugh...what was that!?” he leaned forward, sitting up, “It tastes like shit!”
“I told you what it was for, and I’m glad you know what shit tastes like.” the man replied, “And in answer to your inquiry…it’s a cure to your problem. Not everything that’s good for you tastes good. Give it a few minutes and you’ll see that it worked. You as well, take the other for you need it too. Now young lady...I have something for you.” he handed me the other pill, which I reluctantly swallowed. Making the same facial expressions of disgust, I watched as he turned to his desk picking up the chunk of rock then faced me, “This is for you.” he handed it to me, “This will be very useful to you in the future as well. That my lovely, is a Zyphyn.”
As I took the rock (more like a chunk of black meteorite with specks of Amber) from his hands, I expected it to be heavy; you know like a rock, but it was light as a feather. It was the size of a basketball as I turned it in my hands.Trying not to drop it, I looked up at the man who wasn’t even looking in my direction.
“Thanks.” I said bobbing my head around following his gaze.
“My dear just because I’m not looking right at you doesn’t mean I can’t see you. I have a third eye so quit your bobbing. You’re making me dizzy.” he said quickly.
“Sorry.” I replied then changed the subject, “But a rock is exactly what I need.”
“A rock you say. It’s not a rock, my lovely. You’ll find out soon enough what its true form will be.”
“IT’S A ROCK.” I thought, “WHAT FORM COULD IT POSSIBLY TAKE?”
“So, my lovelies…how do you feel now? I’m sure the pill has worked its...” he raised his hands fluttering his fingers, “magic, yes?”
“Yes. I feel much better.” Erik replied as he stood up with no problem.
The shadows under his eyes disappeared; his skin returning to its normal complexion.
“I feel good too.” I added, “As if none of this happened.”
“Mm, good. Now…you need to leave.” the man urged, “I don’t get vampires and demons here so I’m afraid I don’t keep a supply of blood here. I’m sure what you took from the young woman won’t sustain very long. I’m afraid the pill doesn’t help with your cravings.”
“I’ll be fine. And how did you know we were...” Erik replied as he glared at the man then glanced over at me, watching as I studied the rock’s surface.
“I know many things. Now I do have something else for you.” he handed Erik the broken mirror shard, “It’s a broken piece of a mirror once belonging to the full length version which shows the history of your past, present and on occasion if needed, bits of the future.”
Erik asked if he could take it with him but he said no rather quickly because this piece is to remain with him, but he was more than welcome to take a quick peek at it. However if he needed to find out more, to ask the Keeper of Secrets. As Erik walked over sitting where he had before, he began seeing images of his past he never expected to see.
What those were I won’t reveal because they were for Erik to know.
The man approached Zanz, who growled defensively, but after speaking in soft words, he ceased his growls as he stepped forward. He held out his hands, feeding him something which he swallowed without having to chew. Afterwards, the man scratched Zanz’s neck as if they were old friends.
“Excuse me...” I rushed over, laying the rock next to Zanz, “what did you feed my dog!?” I petted the top of his head.
“Don’t worry young lady. It was just a special treat. He’s truly a magical animal and should be worshiped as such. And I must say, that I never expected the Cerberus offspring to have survived this long.”
“What did you just say!?” I questioned,”Did you just say…Cerberus!? As in..the three headed Hell hound!?”
“The very same.” the man smiled, “Except they don’t have three heads. They’re three individual hounds guarding three gates to Hell, but of course, like anything else, mankind has twisted their truth. Yada-yada-yada!” he waved his hand.
“So, you’re saying that my Zanz…is a Cerberus pup indefinitely?” I glanced at Zanz; sitting there watching us attentively, “Makes sense. His size and ferociousness. So, if he’s a Hell hound, is that how he made it through the wall of fire unscathed?” I looked into the mans’ white eyes.
“Precisely. And just one more thing too, little lady…he hasn’t reached his full size either. He’s still growing. And he’ll live as long as you live, which I see will be an eternity.” the man smiled then raised his gaze toward Erik, “Vampire, may I have the mirror back?” he held his hand out waiting for him to place it in his hand.
As he did and touching the other end,the man felt a strong source of energy flow through his fingers, hand and up his arm. The man smiled as he stared into Erik’s curious eyes, sensing Erik’s true potential was surely coming to the surface.
Unsure of the man’s stare, Erik inquired what was wrong but the man didn’t answer as he turned his back, walking toward the desk, laying the shard on the surface. Erik turned looking back at me as I watched their encounter wanting any advice I could give. I shrugged, leaving the decisions to him.
“Thank you. And young man...if you have any other questions about your history, turn to the most unexpected as she’ll reveal to you, what you truly are. Now please go. Your time here has been spent. The others are waiting for you.” then he walked around his desk once more, sifting through his things but before we backed away, the man added aiming his next words telepathically, “My lovely…tell that Templar that he has no right to keep what doesn’t belong to him. He’ll know of what I speak for it’s most of the items that he keeps secret. Ones of which you know of.”
I paused, turning to look back at the man who nodded as his eyes wondered.
“Keeps…” Erik urged, “come on!” he gently reached for my hand.
Erik and I thanked him for his kindness and gifts, and were about to leave.When I turned wanting to say something, the chamber was completely empty. No torches, no desk, no trunks or chests, no man. Absolutely nothing but blackness.
We looked at each other then headed out back down the passageway. Approaching the bridge, we were surprised to see that it was completely gone as if never there.We cautiously stepped, before running through the area. The fire barricade too, had diminished. Zanz remembering the fire, howled before passing through.And the last but not least the iron bolts still shot, bouncing off the walls but as we grew closer, they just disappeared, disintegrating into nothing as if they were never there as well.
We paused afraid that it might be another trick, when the ground beneath our feet and the entire mountain began shaking and rumbling. Coming from behind us, a loud moaning sound echoed throughout, causing us to cover our ears. Shaking our heads, we stumbled forward toward the cave’s entrance when a force of energy emanated from the cavern where the man was located. Vibrating along the walls and through the tunnels, an energy pushed us out in a strong force as if saying magically, “GET OUT!”
We landed face down on the ground in puddles of water a few feet from the cave’s entrance. The light from the setting sun; almost dusk, hurt our eyes momentarily then adjusted. Zanz barked as he chased after my so-called rock which rolled a bit. Once caught in a pothole, splashing water from its puddle, Zanz laid near it protecting it from anyone who dared to touch it. Before we had a chance to stand on our feet, we were greeted by those outside who were happy and relieved to see we made it through safely. Marxus especially, was glad to see we made it out giving both Erik and I hugs; ones of which we didn’t return.Sensing our hesitant demeanor’s, he pulled away.