The horses have never acted the way they are now and we passed through here barely three months ago. What might have changed since then to make Kasfelken so degraded now?
‘Do you know what has caused it?’ I ask Maia as she goes from horse to horse, calming them as best she can.
‘No, but I may be able to fix it if I can find that out.’
‘Are these people suffering?’ Peter asks, and Maia throws him one of the dirtiest look I’ve ever seen.
‘The people? The people have caused this. They broke the natural balance of this place. The people of Boar Creek are the foulest and most disgusting people I’ve ever known and even they knew better than this!’
Maia waves her hands, grass shooting up in thick patches by each horses mouth, and marches off toward the town.
‘We’ll stay with the horses, you two follow her,’ Peter says, shooing Mikael and I after Maia.
‘Maia, wait a moment! Tell us where we’re going,’ Mikael reaches out to grab Maia’s forearm and flinches back almost immediately. He probably remembered what happened to Anders.
‘I’m finding the source. Sickness spreads from a fixed point and I’m going to find what that point is and cleanse it,’ she says, not slowing for a moment as she stomps through the town gates and marches right toward the town square.
‘We are about to have a very interesting afternoon,’ Mikael mumbles as we hurry to keep up with Maia.
She stops periodically, closing her eyes and breathing deep. Sometimes she crouches down to rest her palms against the cobblestone. We march for over an hour, only pausing when she stops to assess the ‘sickness’ she can feel. I can tell when we are getting close. Maia’s face begins to pale, her breaths becoming heavy, her jaw clenched tight and steps beginning to falter. The closer we get to the source whatever has infected the town, the more ill Maia becomes.
Maia leans her back against a tree and slides to the ground beside a sluggish stream. Even I can tell that this place is wrong. Maia has sweat through her tunic, great droplets sliding down her forehead and dripping off her chin. Her hands shake and her face has lost all colour. She appears a walking corpse, her complexion waxy and grey.
Mikael crouches down to wet a piece of cloth he has torn from his tunic.
‘Don’t touch it,’ Maia jumps up and grips Mikael’s wrist away from the stream. ‘Never touch this water.’
Maia sways and move forward to catch her as she falls. I hold her left elbow, might right hand against her lower back to keep her steady.
‘Maia, you can’t be here,’ I don’t know what’s happening, but it is clear that Maia is paying dearly for finding this place.
‘I have to get in the water,’ she says and I fear that she has begun to hallucinate.
‘There is absolutely no way that I will allow you to get into that water,’ I growl, not even wanting to imagine what might happen if she does.
‘I wasn’t asking for your damned permission, Grayson,’ she pulls out of my grip and stumbles to the waters edge.
She steadies herself against the trunk of a tree and unlaces her boots. It takes a lot of self-control for me to keep from helping her as she stumbles her way through the removal of her boots and clothes. She slides into the water wearing nothing but the bandage around her ribs. Mikael and I can’t afford the chivalry of turning our backs, too afraid that she might collapse and drown beneath the water if we aren’t watching and remaining ready to drag her out.
She isn’t in the water a minute before her body convulses and she is vomiting into the thick water.
‘Maia, we need to get you out of there,’ I am terrified. She looks an inch from death.
‘No,’ she closes her eyes and rests her palms against the surface of the water.
Her palms begin to glow. My terror intensifies as black tendrils creep up her arms, the blood in her veins appearing to become tar. It climbs up her arms, curls over her shoulders and makes it’s way to her chest. The moment it reaches her heart she cries out and doubles over, but doesn’t so much as flinch her fingers.
I rip off my boots as Mikael tears off his tunic, the both of us deciding to pull her out of there. We’re about to jump in when the blackness of the water fades, Maia drawing the darkness into her body. The water becomes like glass, not a cloud of colour or a single ripple in it’s surface. I can see straight to the bottom of the creek, the smooth stones and the moss and river weed growing back before our eyes.
Maia’s smile is damn near angelic as she falls into the water and floats on her back. The temperature changes, the leaves of the trees change colour, the grass comes to life. I watch as the very sickness of the area disappears, absorbed by Maia. She wades to the edge of the creek and crawls out on her knees. I cover her with my cape as she sits against the tree she left her clothes beneath.
Her arms are still stained with whatever hell she took from the earth and she is shaking worse than the only earthquake I have experiences, but she seems overjoyed.
‘Give me a moment and then we can go find the person responsible for this,’ she pants, chest heaving as she fights the pollution in her blood. ‘Wait, why are you undressed?’
I look down at my bare chest and glance at Mikael, who is in much the same state, and immediately turn to my own piles of scattered clothes and shove my clothes back on.
‘We were about to pull you out,’ Mikael mumbles sheepishly as he pulls his tunic over his head. ‘What in Gods name happened to you in there?’
I loop my belt back through my scabbard and wait for Maia to explain herself.
‘I absorbed it all. I can filter the pollutants through my body and cleanse the land. I needed to do it. I had to do this.’ Her knuckles are white as she tightens her grip on my cloak and cringes. ‘I just need to filter it out of my own system, which might take a while. The Blacksmith is being incredibly irresponsible.’
‘The Blacksmith?’ asks Mikael.
‘Mmm,’ she leans her head against the tree trunk as her body convulses. ‘He’s been dumping his used cooling oils and metal wastes in this area and it infected the land to the point that it had killed all life in this creek and the lands around it. I’ve cleansed it and healed the plant life, but it will take time for the animals to return.’
I think for a moment and realise that there aren’t any laws that I can think of that might create a guideline for how someone is supposed to dispose of waste.
‘So, you want to track down the Blacksmith and do what, exactly?’
‘Well, I imagine he hasn’t broken any laws. As far as I’m aware people cam do whatever they want when it comes to the land, but he does need to be educated if not sanctioned for the damage he caused. I don’t even want to think about what this place might have become if we hadn’t come here,’ she shudders, I assume at the thought of that.
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