The Last Artican

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Chapter 26

Chapter 26

The darkness of the cave consumed me. I felt as if I was in a cocoon. That the cold stone walls were closing in around me. I pushed the thoughts back from my mind, concentrating on the task ahead, finding my people. That was the only thing I wanted right now.

The light from my palm only lit a small circle around me, but Ruan and Arsan had learned quickly to conjure the fire. Their lights contributed to the luminance, but still, it wasn’t much to see by. We had to make our way slowly, feeling our way around most turns in this never ending maze.

How long was this cave? The floor in front of us was beginning to smooth out, just like in my dream, but the cave seemed to go deeper than I had thought. Maybe I was wrong about this place? Maybe the Artican’s didn’t want me to find them? I had to stop thinking like that. Doubting myself would only hurt me in the end. I needed to stay positive, for myself and for the ones around me.

Calmness overcame me as I let my magic burn through my veins, taking over all my senses. It felt nice to shut off my emotions for a while and relax within my own mind. I didn’t think I would have made it this far without that comfort. It helped me to trust myself.

“Tabri, are you sure this is the right cave?” Arsan’s words were blunt but calm, bringing me back to reality and doubt again. He was concerned, as was I, that maybe I had made a mistake. We didn’t have time for mistakes. I let my magic reach out to the walls of the cave. Feeling, prodding for something that would tell me we were going the right way. A small hint of power spread through the stone. That familiar feel of magic pulsed through the cave, faint, but it was there. I traced the rocks with my fingertips, feeling it through my palm and up my arm. As I moved forward it became stronger.

“Yes, this is right. I can feel the magic the Artican’s used to make these walls. It’s old and faint, but it’s there.” I was sure this was the cave now. The feeling was unmistakable. I took a deep breath, thanking the gods we had found it.

A cool breeze passed through the cave, sending my fire rippling. It called to me, pulling me further into the interior, into the darkness. The narrow hall opened into a large round cavern. The walls and floor were smooth, chiseled stone. The ceiling was far above, with jagged stalactites that glistened like diamonds when the light from my fire shown upon them. This room was in my dream. I remember it clearly.

I followed the smooth wall around the edge of the cavern, feeling the stone with my fingertips. The feel of the old magic there was comforting, but interesting. I wanted to learn about it. To study it and find what made it so different from what I felt coursing through my veins now. There was no time for that though. We were still being pursued by the undead army. They could be here at any time.

“There’s nothing here, Tabri.” Nell was annoyed, but kept here rude comments to herself.

“This can’t be.” My words came out in a whisper. “There was a door here.”

“A door? How do you know these things?” Arsan was searching the wall next to me for any sign of a crack in the wall.

“I had a dream last night. There was a man standing here, in front of this wall.” I moved to where I saw the man standing. “He told me it was time to come home. Then the wall opened behind him, there, in the stone. He walked through the door, into a hallway. Then he was gone.”

I remembered the feeling of abandonment when he had left me. It was a strong feeling, even though it was only a dream. I pushed the memory to the back of my mind and went back to trying to find the trigger for the door in the stone.

“That’s all he had said? He didn’t touch anything?” I shook my head at Arsan’s questions. “Was there anything different about the room?”

Maybe? Yes, there was something different. I ran around the whole perimeter of the cavern, searching the walls for that something that eluded my thoughts. There, in the stone a few feet away from the door was a faint painting. Its dark red color was just like my dream. It was of a person, maybe a girl, holding some kind of sphere in her hand. “There were paintings all around the cavern walls. They were glowing brightly when the door opened.”

I touched the paint with the tips of my fingers, feeling it with my magic. The wall became hot to the touch and the picture began to glow. Yes, this was it. I needed to find the other paintings. I hoped that the door would open then. It had to open then. “Find the other paintings.”

Ruan called out almost immediately. She was directly across the cavern from me. “Here’s another one.”

I ran over to her. She was standing in front of another red painting of a man with a dagger in his hand. I touched it and it began to glow like the other one. The room was filled with a faint eerie red light, casting our shadows around the room. It was disorienting, but I kept my mind on my task.

Arsan found the next painting. It looked like a person in a mass of fog… or mist. Arsan touched the picture and the wall began to glow like the others. These painting all seemed so familiar. The first was of a girl holding a sphere. The second was of a man with a dagger. The third was of a mist. “The forth will be of a little girl.”

Arsan gave me a sidelong glance, contemplating my words. These images weren’t as clear in my dream, but now they made sense. Although it was eerie, it seemed right. The pictures were of us, all of us. Me, Arsan, Nell and even Ruan. It was like the Artican’s were expecting us to find them.

“Here it is, just as you said, a picture of a girl. It looks like she is being blown by the wind.” I found Nell standing in front of the last picture to the right of where the door should be. All my hope was gathered into this one picture. If this didn’t work, I had nothing left to give.

I raised my hand slowly to touch the paint. The burning in my chest rushed and jumped through my veins, seemingly excited to meld with the ancient magic. As my fingers grazed the cold stone, the heat from my body surged forward, into the picture. Its paint began to glow red and for a second nothing happened. I was beginning to think that I was wrong about the paintings, or that maybe we had touched them in the wrong sequence.

Out of nowhere the red glow began to brighten. It shimmered and rippled as it pulsed with the beat of my heart. Then the paint began to move. The two paintings furthest from the middle slithered like liquid in a straight line till they merged with the next painting. Then those paintings began to move as well.

I moved to the middle of the room, watching the glowing red line move and form. It spread across the empty cavern wall, always in a thin line, tracing the outline of a doorway. My heart jumped with anticipation and fear of what lay beyond. My dream had never shown me what came next. It was unknown and frightening, but I was ready for it just the same.

The red glow died away, leaving a fully formed doorway in front of us. The light in my palm didn’t seem to be adequate enough to fill the darkness the glow from the paintings left behind, although it wasn’t any darker than before we found them.

A quiet rumbling shook the ground. It felt deep in the cavern floor, causing the dust at our feet to move and cloud into the air. Small rocks fell from the cavern wall around the door. The massive stone wall creaked and rocked as the doors slowly swung inwards. A blast of cold air rushed out of the sealed hallway, blowing out my flame and plunging us into darkness. It was a blackness that consumed every bit of light within me. I couldn’t even see my hands in front of my face.

Large stone braziers lit one at a time down the hallway, illuminating the gloomy entrance. This was how it looked in my dream, a never ending path where the man had disappeared, leaving me in the darkness. Not this time. I would be walking down the hall to find my people, to find out about where I had come from. I wouldn’t be left behind this time.

Cautiously, I passed through the large stone doors and entered the brightly lit hallway. The walls were much the same as the ones of the cavern, chiseled stone. I could feel the magic in these walls easier than before. The old feeling of the walls surged through them, reaching out to me, touching my magic. I gladly gave over to the feelings of curiosity that burned in my chest, letting my magic wander and feel its way down the hall.

As we walked, more braziers lit. It seemed that this hallway was never ending, following the darkness into nothingness. But I could feel the walls with my magic. I knew there was an end where the magic stopped and turned a sharp corner. My heart thumped in my chest as a small speck of white light shown in the distance.

“Isn’t there an old saying that warns against going toward the light at the end of a tunnel?” Arsan joked.

A nervous chuckle rose from my throat. “I do believe that has something to do with death being upon you. I don’t think it applies to caves deep inside mountains.”

Arsan weaved his hand with mine. It was nice to know he was here with me. I would have lost myself a long time ago if it wasn’t for his warm touch. He was meant to find me. I realized that back in the cavern when I saw all the paintings.

The white light grew larger with every step we took forward. I could feel my heart almost jumping out of my chest, leaping forward to see what was ahead. This was it. This was the moment I had been dreaming about all my life. I took those final steps forward, through the white light. It was blindingly bright, but my eyes quickly adjusted.

Before me was a massive cavern, a million times large than the one we had left behind us. Its walls lined with buildings dug out of the stone. They spread from floor to ceiling in an intricate web of ladders and stairs. Lights shone through windows, warm and inviting. The sight of the structures reminded me of the monastery built into the side of the mountain back home. The center of the cavern held a large pool of molten lava, I could feel the heat from it radiating around me. It was held in place by the ancient magic that surged through every wall in the cavern.

Thousands upon thousands of people moved about the cavern. Men shouted from a market place nearby, trading their wares to women with infants strapped to their backs. Masons hammered at metal near the lava pool, creating swords, armor and tools. There was a food cart nearby with the most wonderful smelling meats I think I had ever inhaled. My mouth watered, begging for a taste.

The massive amount of new sights overloaded my senses. I was speechless, glued to the ground in wonder. There were so many people here. Everything I had learned told me that the Artican’s were extinct. This didn’t seem that my people were gone. In fact, they were thriving, here inside the mountain. I didn’t know how this was possible.

I felt a light tug on my hand, it brought me back from all the wonders before me. Pulling on my hand was a small white haired girl. Her skin was pale and her blue eyes were as bright as the sky. I wondered if all the Artican’s had such beautiful, bright features. Her voice was small, but strong. She wasn’t afraid of us. “Are you here to see Tull?”

“I… I don’t know who Tull is.” I felt lost in this sea of people. There was so much to take in, I didn’t know where to start, but maybe this Tull could help answer some questions.

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