Chapter Thirteen: Welcome Home
“Get off of me” Fraya snapped at Evan who had landed on her after they had jumped through the portal.
“Sorry it’s not like I could control where I fell” he retorted, getting up and dusting himself off like Mayfel and Erabos.
A foul smell surrounded them, one that Kaydence could only describe as rotting corpses or an extreme variety of rotting foods.
It wasn’t surprising that such a suffocating stench was present when his eyes fell to the environment.
In the stories he’d read in Graylow about the sorcerer folk, the worlds through the portals had always been depicted as heavenly places of peace, but the one they currently stood in was far from anything heavenly or even earthly.
Everything appeared to be decaying before their very eyes, no light other than the dim greying-green tint from the sky was giving them the ability to see.
They seemed to be in some sort of forestry or what seemed to be one at a point in time, although now it stood melting and steaming as an unknown liquid oozed from the crevices.
Distinctly there had been no living pants there for quite some time, animals on the other hand littered the lifeless trees and barren grounds.
Not animals life anything Kaydence had ever seen, with their mutated and deformed bodies twisting and bending unnaturally all the while their squeals and shrieks circled them.
“We move” Ide began, her eyes crucially observing the area with disgust and pain evident in her eyes “The less time we spend here the better”
Kaydence didn’t move, his expression was daunting and his eyes blown wide.
“What’s wrong?” he heard Mayfel ask him.
“I’ve been here before. When we were battling in Mater Arbour and the bond took over, I saw this place and a man who turned into Bregan”
“Are you sure?” Mayfel said.
“I’m positive, I have been here before”
It was all so familiar and traumatising, no matter how many times he endured the nightmares the mark had forced him to witness, he never became used to it and even now they remained a vivid memory that often woke him in the night. Not that he’d tell Mayfel and worry him more.
“I have too” Fraya mumbled, her eyes scanning the desolate lands also “When I touched the Lamia Rose, this is what I saw, or at least a fraction of the vision was from here”
Not one but two accounts, something strange was stretching its hands out of the realm into their world, an entity they couldn’t explain nor prove and yet even in the early stages, it had great influence over them.
“Come,” Ida said sharply brushing off their words as she did with most people.
One after another, in a relatively organised line, they proceeded forward through the dense thicket, all bearing arms to their individual weapons.
Ida, with her spear, crafted magically from a twig, pulled from her cloak pocket, Acuere gripped tightly in her hand after she’d stolen it from him yet again when he dropped it entering the realm.
He was awaiting the ideal time to take it back, arguing would get him nowhere but a planned out move would.
Mayfel was equipped with his bow and quicker, packed tight with blue feather-tipped arrows curtsy of Nerina, Fraya up ahead was gripping a Kunai throwing knife in either hand almost eagerly.
Evan had his trust pistol holstered to his belt, the holster buckled remaining unclipped for a faster draw should something happen.
In Erabos’ hand was a double-ended spear which somehow managed to split in half and reform into one on command, perhaps it was magic or simply advanced weapon design, wither way Kaydence wanted to see it used in a fight.
And last was Xenia who held a single crescent moon blade in hand following Ida and Erabos closely like a bodyguard.
Magic was both interesting and frightening, the sheer extent of their abilities was unfathomable and probably went far beyond anything they’d seen so far.
Personally, Kaydence didn’t want to see what they were truly capable of.
The forestry soon thinned out into a marshland which unquestionably caused the majority of the unbreathable fumes.
Pools of brown sludge bubbled and hisses with steam as they passed by as if their presence angered it, which was absurd of course but unsettling nonetheless.
There seemed to be not one ounce of life within the endless stretch of wasteland, not that Kaydence could blame anything for not wanting to set up a home in such a hazardous area.
Come to think of it, he didn’t even know of the vile fumes they were inhaling were safe, nothing about the smell seemed the same to him in the slightest, but apparently, Ida disagreed considering she pushed on without turning her nose up at the smell.
“Who owns these lands?” Kaydence spoke aiming his words to their guide.
“A man who has condemned himself to death” she growled, Kaydence wasn’t sure if the anger was toward shim or the man she spoke of, perhaps a mixture of the both he thought.
“He’s your ex, right? Can’t you speak some sense into him?”
“There is no use attempting to talk sense into someone who has been consumed by the dark. Save your breath”
“So, we’re here to kill him? Will that stop the creatures?” Evan asked sounding on the verge of throwing up.
“Only one way to find out” Fraya replied for her.
“Mother, maybe it would be best to try and divulge some information from him before we kill him. He may be the only one able to reverse all of this”
“There is no way to reverse this kind of damage, it is the work of dark magic. All we can do I end its influence over this world before it spreads to our realms and Arravan” Ida stated.
“It technically already has, those seaweed things have all but taken over the seas. How do you suppose we combat those?” Evan asked matter of factly.
“It is not my realm to deal with” she snapped in reply holding the same tone as he.
“You can’t just kill him and leave us to deal with what he’s done” he retaliated.
Ida didn’t take too kindly to being challenged, she reminded Kaydence of a cornered wolf that lashes out when she’d threatened “If you remember, you were the one’s to open the portals in the first place. Your kind stole the Aurem Orb and lost it, you put everything in danger. Your kind caused all of this, those creatures are in your world, not mine”
“If your world is taken over, you’ll never find your stone” Kaydence spat, it was as if he couldn’t resist getting into arguments with Ida.
He didn’t particularly enjoy it but just seemed to constantly find himself in the same situation.
“Mother, this is no time to fight. We must keep our minds focused” Erabos suggested, the bringer of peace and quietness had spoken and subjectively they all listened letting the shrill wildlife noises to numb their minds as they continued to trample along through slush.
Their feet finally found solid ground again, but the sights were no better than those they’d witnessed in the last hour.
Nothing but hollowed out, rotted down tree stumps, filled to the jagged brims and oozing with what looked to be blood-like liquid stood around them.
The wasteland of singed and charcoaled grass, spread into the horizon where it met the feet of craggy cliffs that then expanded vertically.
Kaydence could just about make out an opening from where he stood, a zigzag pathway carved out of the hill leading up to it and the cliffs.
Everything in front of him did nothing but put him off wanting to take another step, he didn’t expect the realm to be like it was, he was anticipating green fields of flowers and sunshine, not whatever hell they’d leapt into.
He hadn’t signed up for any of it, if he had it his way he would have killed Bregan and retired to the ocean side where no one could bother him, but that was nothing but a desire.
“What is the name of this realm?” Fraya asked
“It lost its name many years ago” Xenia stated like a teacher answering a question from a student, her voice was soft and welcoming, much different to Ida.
“But what was its name?” she said hoping Xenia wouldn’t mind her countless questions.
“In your tongue, it was known as Pailings” Ida stated with no emotion whatsoever in her tone.
“Was it always like this?”
Xenia replied again as Ida stayed quiet she began to explain “No, it was once beautiful and lively. This land like the others was once fuelled by the great tree, but when those residing here saw what their protector was becoming they fled. And by the looks of things, the power once provided by the tree has faded beyond rescue” she said in reminiscence of times long gone.
“If we kill him, would it bring back life here?” Mayfel queried
“I fear it would not. These lands are far beyond repair”
“But, what will happen to it?”
“It will continue to rot, there is nothing that can be done” she stated gazing up to the snaking path.
It would be an exhausting climb, but they had little choice, it wasn’t like they could turn back after the amount of distance they had already travelled.
It brought Kaydences attention to the fact that all of their trekking would need to be repeated on their return journey, which was something he definitely wasn’t looking forward to.
But it wasn’t the time to think ahead that far, he had to remain in the present and think of what was about to happen while staying vigilant, there was no saying, after all, that was lurking around each corner.
Especially with the deformed creatures, they’d seen so far.
Attempting to ignore the steep inclined, they pushed forward, Kaydence tried his best to limit his breath intake as much as possible seeing as he didn’t want the unknown chemicals in the air to enter his lungs and possibly poison his body.
How the so-called protector of the realm managed to cope with the pungent smell and humid air was unbeknownst to him, but then he supposed he’d lived there long enough to become accustomed to it for it not to be a bother.
The doorway he’d spotted from way back, was remarkably bigger than he had thought, formed in an arch-like manner and stretching upwards giving it an unusual height as if for beings much taller.
That thought alone put Kaydence even more on edge and he did not appreciate the self-created thought looming in the front of his mind.
Their heavy breaths filled the ominous air before the doorway to what looked like a darker and more evil version of Evangelis, although it did not display any of the glorious architecture and carvings that the proud mountain palace did.
Heat, from what felt like a mass of fires, wafted out of the gap in the cliff bringing with it a stench sour enough to bring tears to your eyes.
Kaydence wasn’t sure if it was just him, but he could have sworn he heard some sort of shrieking from deep within the cavernous halls.
“Anyone else not a fan of this place already?” Evan asked as he peered inside.
“I was thinking the same” Mayfel admitted.
“Shut up the both of you” Fraya snapped, punching them both in the arms as she passed by behind Ida, Erabos and Xenia.
Moss lined the walls as well as what seemed to be mould caused by the incessant dripping water leaking through the cracks that ran along the ceilings and walls like a multitude of rivers on a map.
The pitter-patter of drops colliding with the uneven ground drew their attention to the doorway coming up on their right, all of them proceeded with caution prepared to strike anything that mover.
Through the doorway, tanks of all sizes and shapes could be seen.
Not one of them held clean water and instead stood as a feeding ground for growing algae and the brown murky water polluted with unimaginable parasites.
A couple of the rectangular tanks were empty, no doubt because of the shattered sides spewing all of their grotesque contents over the equally disturbing ground.
As far as natural floors went, Kaydence couldn’t deny that it was the worst he’d seen, not one area looked clean enough or even safe enough to sleep on and he’d slept on forest and cave floors in the past.
“He really needs a housekeeper” Evan muttered from the back of the group, Kaydence did well not to snicker at the man’s sarcasm.
Evan, since the time he’d met him and become acquainted, he’d always seemed to have kept his personality despite the horrors they’d seen.
It was somewhat comforting to know they kept some part of them even if the rest was to change, although it could have been his only way to cope with it all.
The next door they passed was in no way better or worse than the last, the door was half-rotted off of its rusted hinges but it was just a timid preview to what was beyond the sheltering blockade.
Wooden benches, tables and shelves crowded the room, all rammed full of test-tube racks, vials of strange liquids and concoctions, conical flasks filled to the brim with freakish substances of many unsightly colours which had overflown across the tables and onto the floor now coated in thick layers of growing moulds of deep reds and oranges.
With no time to stop for sightseeing- not that Kaydence would elect for that option if he had the choice- they carried on forward reaching yet another door on their right.
Metal cages and chains lived within the room, replacing what living thing once resided within their uncaring grip.
Deep claw marks carved out chunks of the wall which for any animal he knew, would have been impossible.
Blood smeared and painted the surface now dried and, like the rest of the area, was rotting in an unsavoury brown and black to match the chunks of fur dotted throughout the room.
Kaydence was sure the others were thinking the same thought of not wanting to know what foul beasts were butchered and tortured behind the door, beasts that had managed to engrave dense rock with their claws that must have been bigger than his fingers as he subtly sized them up in his head.
Ida was waiting for no one, she had already split away from the rest of them, Erabos obviously trailing behind her along with Xenia.
The rest of them were quick to move on, passing by the last door which Kaydence couldn’t help but peek into although he really wished he hadn’t.
Long oval tanks lined both walls on either side of the doorway, they were big enough- if he dared to say- for a human to stand inside.
Water drenched the floor, mirroring the stone ceilings which reminded him of the portals he’d seen so far.
Who was this apparent protector?
The massive hall section of the cave system was expansive, to say the least, it was bigger than even Evangelis’ main hall which was saying something since the winged folk prided themselves on their grandeur.
A huge, thick-wooded, round table sat in the centre of the room.
Twenty, possibly thirty chairs surrounded it, all of which resided in front of a raised platform that demanded any who wished to reach the top to climb at least ten steps if they wanted to reach the throne.
The throne in question, stark white against the grey-green glow of the room, was without a doubt made from bone.
Kaydences theory was confirmed as he noticed the arms rests formed from what seemed to be femur bones and a gathering of others all polished and filed down into a smoother shape.
Sat upon it, in gold and black, a crown or twisting thorns decorated with decaying, tar-like roses appearing to be almost melting, settled atop his black hair was a man.
“Vasilios” Ida named coldly.
“Welcome home Domina De Arboribus” he sneered, his snake-like eyes tracking her movements as if she were prey.
That was until his eyes met a pair much like his own, a reflection.
Not only was his lost love home, but so was his son.