Chapter 21: Ancient Cry
The rain beats against the thatched roof of Stalia’s cottage. It’s been down pouring since dawn. Amsyn hopes it will bring relief from the intolerable heat of early autumn. She hadn’t realized how much time had passed since she left Fulor until she went hunting for herbs and saw the changing leaves. She scoops the last of the freshly stirred salve into a jar and passes it off to Stalia. The Fauness has spent the last couple weeks as her appointed apprentice/guard.
He’s kept her in Ta’floon. He claims it’s for her safety, but she fears he doesn’t yet trust her. She deserves his suspicion. She betrayed his trust, but it still hurts.
She hasn’t seen much of him since her confession. He’s been waging war against the occupying forces of Quvania and with his Avdon’s aggressive strikes comes many injuries. Amsyn has been the one to tend to them all. She’s seen more gruesome scenes in the last two weeks than she ever saw the entire time she lived in Fulor.
Amsyn’s can’t be mad at him though. He’s kept her secret. He’s still hesitant about trusting the Dragon Prince, but he’s promised to help. Amsyn was surprised he agreed so easily, but soon realized that like Helio he just wants it to end. He carries the guilt of every failure, every life lost under his command. He’s desperate for an end to the bloodshed, death, and misery. The only end is peace and if he must work with the Dragon Prince to achieve it then he will happily sacrifice his pride.
Amsyn’s one constant has been Stalia. She’s been the one to get supplies from the outside and train her. Avdon handed Amsyn’s training over to Stalia the day after her confession, citing the need of Aka as his lieutenant. In all honesty Amsyn prefers her as a teacher. She’s far less brutal than Aka. Aside from Avdon Stalia’s the first friend Amsyn’s made since leaving Fulor.
It seems like a lifetime since her and Helio left. Fulor, the closest thing to a home she’s had since fleeing Udor and now she doesn’t know if she’ll ever get the chance to return. Or if she’ll want to. So much has changed. The peaceful life she’s been accustom to was an illusion and now it’s broken. Will she be doomed to a life of war and destruction, of loss and misery? Gods help her. She doesn’t have Helio’s strength. She can’t endure what he can.
Amsyn packs the last of her supplies into her healer’s bag and fastens it shut. Stalia sweeps the last of the plant remains into a bucket as someone knocks on the door. She hurries to it, her hoof-falls echoing through the cottage, and opens it. She ushers the visitor inside, and upon realizing she is still holding the bucket sets it down.
Avdon stares past Stalia at Amsyn. Her flaming orange curls are tucked behind her ears, revealing their severe point. Her cheeks become dusted with red when she lifts her head and catches him staring.
Avdon’s hair, drenched from the rain, clings to his face and droplets run down his tattooed skin. She doesn’t understand how he can walk around bare chested in a storm. He takes a seat at the table, resting his chin on his clasped hands. He lowers his gaze to the worn wood, stray water droplets fall from his horns.
“Why are we being subjected to the honor of your visit?” Stalia teases, smirking. Avdon smiles at the Fauness.
“I wanted to make sure you weren’t getting Amsyn here into any trouble; besides I’m not going to allow her to walk home alone in this weather.” Amsyn rolls her eyes.
“I’m right here. You know it’s rude to speak of someone as if they’re not in the room.” She scolds. Stalia giggles.
“Apologies.” Amsyn reaches for her bag, but Avdon grabs it first. He slings it over his shoulder. “Least I can do.” He says, answering her impending questions. Amsyn regards him with a mixture of suspicion and confusion. He notices, but offers no explanation.
Amsyn hugs Stalia and wishes her a good night before leaving the cottage. She steps into the rain and instantly wishes she was back inside. It’s cold and each droplet seeps through her shirt to her skin.
They sprint through the forest sanctuary. Amsyn keeps her head low, trying to avoid getting pelted by the rain. Avdon grabs ahold of her wrist and drags her into the manor. He slams the door behind them.
He chuckles, earning a bizarre look from Amsyn. She wrings the water from her hair. Avdon shakes his head furiously, hurling water droplets in every direction. Amsyn shrieks and attempts to shield herself with her hands. “Hey!” Avdon laughs.
“Sorry.” The sincerity of his apology is washes away by the smirk on his face. She playfully shoves him. Smiling, he slides the bag off his shoulder and hands it off to her. She takes it from him and allows it to dangle at her side.
“Why did you really walk me back?”
Avdon’s light expression turns grim. He gestures for Amsyn to follow him into the sitting room.
Curled up on one of the couch pillows fast asleep is Sinnion. Amsyn takes a seat next to him and runs her fingers over his sleeping figure. Sinnion detests rain. When he awoke to water streaked windows he buried himself beneath the covers and refused to leave the bed. Amsyn knew it was pointless to force him out of bed. He must have come downstairs some time after she left.
“I received a message.” He starts. Amsyn looks up.
“What kind of message?” Her hands manifest in the form of trembling hands. Avdon notices. He encases her small hands in his large ones, running his thumb over the silky flesh and smooth wood.
“From a guard in Latrea. Something’s happened and they requested our help.” He tells her.
“I thought you only helped countries that’ve been taken over by Quvania. Latrea hasn’t.”
“I met Jebyja a couple years ago.” He shrugs.
“What’s happened?” She questions.
“That’s what we’re going to find out.” He replies. Amsyn’s eyes widen.
“Yes, I thought you’d like to come along and I’d like to see the skill that allowed you to survive an onslaught of Quvanian soldiers.” He says with a smirk. She rolls her eyes, smiling slightly.
“I thought you didn’t trust me.” She admits, her voice little more than a whisper. Avdon’s grip on her hands tightens.
“I didn’t want to.” He looks away, ashamed. You’re working with the Dragon Prince, but you’ve saved many of my warriors in the last couple weeks and that alone would earn you my trust.” Amsyn throws her arms around his neck. He doesn’t hesitate in wrapping his around her waist, pulling her closer.
A low growl emerges from beside Amsyn. She jumps back to find Sinnion glaring at Avdon. He continues to glare at Avdon as he climbs onto Amsyn’s shoulder.
“Would it be okay if Sinnion came to?”
“Of course.” Avdon rises from the ground. “Get some rest. We leave first thing in the morning.”
Amsyn turns the hallway corner. Avdon’s leaning against the wall with his arms folded over his bare chest. He’s wearing his signature, leather pants with his metal whip secured around his waist like a belt.
His eyes fall on the Elf. She’s clothed in her golden brown funay jacket with a long sleeve, brown tunic beneath and matching pants. Sinnion is perched on her left shoulder and her bow and quiver are slung over her right one. The dagger he gave her is tucked in her boot.
“Good morning.” Avdon smiles, the action brightens his stern features.
“Morning. I thought we were leaving.”
He pushes himself off the wall and beckons for her to follow. He leads her to the hallway at the back of the house. He stops in front of a portrait of a Faun family. Avdon reaches up and removes the portrait.
“I don’t understand.”
“This house was the home of the tribe’s leader.” He sets the portrait against the wall. “Ta’floon is a magical epicenter. As a result a portal formed. This house was built around it.” He explains.
“You have a portal.” She states, surprised.
They enter the wall; the portal radiates enough light that they don’t need a torch. The portal’s a swirling hole of brown magic torn through the fabric of reality. It’s energy is soothing, like nature.
“Why don’t all the Children of Tevata use it?” She questions.
“Allowing unrestricted access to a portal is dangerous. What lets something out can also let it in.”
“I thought portals only worked one way.” Amsyn’s face scrunches with confusion.
“Nothing works only one way.” Avdon replies.
“You trust me enough to share this with me?” Half a question, half a statement. Avdon smiles, warmth filling his sapphire eyes.
“I wouldn’t show you if I didn’t trust you.” His eyes trace the lines of her face highlighted by the portal’s light. “Do you know how portal’s work?” Amsyn shakes her head. She’s heard tales of portals and their extraordinary powers, but this is the first time she’s seen one.
“We’re going to Srelyrs Valley. You’ll need to focus on the name. It has to be the only thing on your mind or you’ll get lost. Keep yourself calm. You have to be emotionally blank.” He slips his hand in Amsyn’s. “Don’t let go of me, alright?” She nods. If it wasn’t for the fear she’d be blushing.
Avdon approaches the portal. The magic swirls around them like wind, throwing Amsyn’s curls in every direction. Sinnion buries his head in her neck and tightens his grip on her jacket. Amsyn looks at Avdon, as if sensing her gaze, he squeezes her hand.
She closes her eyes and thinks of Srelyrs Valley. She envisions the name being written in the beautiful script of her native language. She strips away layers of worry and thoughts: Udor, her mother, Fulor, Avdon, and Helio; until there is nothing left. She even manages to rid herself of thoughts of the Wyvern perched on her shoulder.
She falls into the portal; her hand intertwined with Avdon’s. She dares to open her eyes and finds herself being hurled through a tunnel of brown magic. Her only tether in the great expanse is Avdon. His hand reminds her this is real.
Avdon coils his body around hers as they are thrown from the portal. His body slams against the ground. He bites his tongue to keep from crying out as pain racks his body. Amsyn lays still for a moment on top of Avdon listening to his heartbeat and feeling his heavy breathes against her hair.
“Are you alright?” He asks, his voice strained. He feels her nod against his chest.
She seems to realize their position and scrambles to get up. Sinnion tumbles from her shoulder. He catches himself before he can hit the ground and hovers at her side. Amsyn sweeps her hair from her face.
“I’m sorry. Are you injured?” She panics. Avdon watches her, the corners of his lips twitching.
“I’m fine Amsyn.” To prove it, he sits up.
Amsyn stands up and looks around. On either side of the river are green mounds that rise to meet the lavender sky. Straddling the river is a temple surrounded by colorful verdancy and a picket fence. Flowing from under the temple is a waterfall that empties into the river that runs through the center of the valley. A statue of the High Priestess Latrea towers over the valley. The country’s namesake is depicted wearing an ankle length dress and crown with her hands raised towards the sky.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Amsyn, unable to forma sentence, just nods. “Shall we?” He offers his hand. Amsyn takes it.
The two fall onto the stone pathway that leads through the valley to the temple. Around them move richly adorned High Priests and Priestesses.
“Is that where we’re going?” Amsyn asks, painting to the temple.
“Yes, it is.”
“Do you know why you were summoned?”
“No. I met Jebyja a couple years ago in Lessau. Latrea had sent soldiers to help Lessau against Quvania. I fought alongside her. When Lessau fell she returned home. I haven’t heard from her since.
Amsyn watches as creatures are turned away from the temple. Amsyn’s stomach turns and she finds her muscles tensing. Her pulse pounds against her neck. The guards remind her of the ones in the Helix.
Avdon traces circles on the back of her hand. “They’re not going to harm us.” He assures her.
“Sorry,” she whispers, out of instinct.
“You have nothing to apologize for.” Amsyn lowers her head to hide her smile.
“State your business.” The guard blocks their path with his speak. Amsyn inches behind Avdon. Sinnion growls at the man before landing on his mistress’s shoulder.
“We need to speak with Jebyja. She’s expecting us.” Avdon addresses. The guard regard him with disgust. What’s worse is Avdon doesn’t appear surprised or offended. Among all species exist stereotypes about others. Fauns are often believed to be the lowest, nothing more than evolved beasts. It sickens Amsyn. She glares at the guard.
“Wait here.” The guard instructs. Amsyn waits until he disappears up the stairs before addressing Avdon.
“Does it ever bother you?”
“You get used to it. They don’t know me. I know who I am and what I’m worth. So their opinion doesn’t matter.” She smiles and squeezes his hand.
“I wish I could do that.” Her eyes fall to her wooden arm. She hides it behind her back.
“You’re stronger than you know Amsyn. Stop doubting yourself. You won’t know what you’re truly capable of until you do.” He tells her. He reaches over and pulls her false arm from behind her back. He places a kiss to the back of her hand. Her cheeks flush red.
Amsyn looks over Avdon’s shoulder at the green haired High Priestess skipping down the stairs. She’s clothed in a gold, long sleeve shirt with a flaring tail that nips at her heels as she walks, and matching pants. Wound around her waist is a pale pink sash with a pointed strip of marked material that falls between her knees. Overtop she’s wearing an ornate, silver breastplate and vambraces. Stashed in the sash is a silver rapier with a wrought handle covered in green jewels.
“Jebyja, it’s good to see you again.” She engulfs him in a hug, her green hair brushes against the shell of her ears. She pulls away upon noticing Amsyn’s presence.
“A friend of yours?” She guesses.
“This is Amsyn. She’s a friend.” He confirms. Amsyn awkwardly waves.
“Why did you call for me?” He asks, the smile gone from his face. Somberness engulfs the High Priestess’s face. She beckons for them to follow her.
“It happened two weeks ago.” Jebyja’s fellow guards glare at them with a mixture of suspicion and contempt. Amsyn instinctively retreats into Avdon. He wraps his arm around her protectively. “This temple serves as the tomb of the High Priestess Latrea. Two weeks ago, under the cover of night it was attacked. They killed the night guards and stole Latrea’s body. I believe when they stole her body they unleashed something. I don’t know what to do. That’s why I contacted you.” She explains.
“What makes you think they released something?” Amsyn inquires.
“Something dark was released. It’s effects are being felt throughout Latrea and even in the surrounding kingdoms. Ever since the body’s theft nature has been unbalanced. There’ve been several earthquakes, thunderstorms, and tornadoes. And there’s this.” Jebyja signals for the guards to open the door.
The beautiful, lavish temple is completely destroyed. Amsyn doesn’t even know how to describe what’s before her. It looks as if something devoured the temple’s inside. The stench of magic lingers. It’s not a physical smell, but a magical one. The room reeks of absolute evil, of destruction, misery, and pain; of every possible negative emotion. Amsyn’s stomach churns and the room whirls around her. Sinnion whimpers and buries himself in her hair. Avdon, too feels the magic’s effects.
“I’ve never felt magic like this, not even Wraiths produce something this dark. Have you?” She questions.
Avdon shakes his head. “This is something different. This isn’t dark. This is evil.” He says. Jebyja looks around at the destruction, frowning.
“I took a pledge to defend this temple and the Children of the United with my life and I have failed.” Avdon releases Amsyn and rests his hand on Jebyja’s shoulder.
“You’ve not failed. You weren’t here when it happened. You couldn’t have prevented it.” She looks up, her fiery red eyes brimming with unshed tears. She smiles at him.
“You don’t know how much your words mean.”
“I speak only the truth. Now I know you have your suspicions of what’s been released. Tell me.”
“There’s a story that’s been passed down from generation to generation for as long as she can be remembered. The story of Latrea and the Ancient. The Ancient’s existed as long as the universe, maybe longer. It’s not a person or deity, but a force. It’s a primordial deity-for lack of a better word-with the constant need to devour. It is nothingness. It’s said that Latrea forged a disc that held the essences of all eleven races. Using it she sealed away the Ancient, sacrificing her life in the process. It’s said she fought the final battle with the Ancient on this very spot. Her body was believed to be the seal to Oblivion-the realm she sealed him away in. It was rumored that if her body was ever moved the Ancient would return.”
“You believe the Ancient’s returned?”
“The world’s been building towards this for a long time and now it’s come. The Ancient has returned.”
Avdon is skeptical.
“Think about it. Wraiths have returned, there’s a Nether wielder out there and I’ve heard rumors of an Aether wielder. Quvania’s rampage has brought dark forces to the surface. Can’t you see it?”
“If you’re right. Quvania is the least of our fears.” Amsyn comments, neutrally. Jebyja nods. Avdon tenses.
As they’re leaving Amsyn dares to ask. “Do you believe what she’s saying is true?” Avdon stares off into the valley. The rushing water fills the silence between them.
“Yes, I do.”