The Four Lands Of Arravan: Birthright

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Chapter Twenty-Eight: Small Successes

The slated, front steps of Salatia’s capital building, its double doors open to the eyes of the gathered citizens all eagerly awaiting Nerina’s words, lay host to Monty who stood beside the fair Fae.

Many of the inhabitants among the crowd held an ill look, others were somewhat healthier although clear signs of illness were detectable in the way they held themselves, their shoulders and body slouched with festering infection and their eyes dark with exhaustion.

As she began to speak words of encouragement and understanding to her people, Monty couldn’t help but think about how Nathan was still hanging in, his vitals were in critical condition and Kyril was still only in the middle stages of understanding the poison to begin to even create a cure.

It was cutting things severely close, but he tried keeping his promise to Nerina but he couldn’t deny that it was much more effort than being negative, which came naturally to him.

“I ask for volunteers to venture into the caverns, the water must be prevented in its journey through our capital and towards other villages.” Nerina said having explained the details of their situation in full as she had promised.

“My fair Lady, no offence, but you said one boy was attacked by something within the caves. Is it not naive to send others down there too, Knowing there is the danger?” a rather young Fae spoke out, perhaps in his mid-twenties, his face one that Monty didn’t trust or like, a gut feeling that he had in first meetings.

To this day he couldn’t explain it but it hadn’t let him down so far, he supposed he could call it a sort of intuition he thought to himself.

“Perhaps it is naive. However, there are countless lives at stake if we do not stop the contamination, it will cause pestilence through our lands and will kill everything that comes into contact with it. I will not select lives to be put on the line, I am simply presenting the choices to you all. You possess the power to chose to accept the task or not, should you accept then you will be accompanying Monty here into the caves.”

Another inhabitant, a woman who held a child at her side and a baby to her chest, voiced her concerns, that of which Monty had been waiting for given his appearance and genes.

“How can we trust a human after everything that has happened? Maybe he’s the one poisoning the water” she said.

“This man was one to stand beside Rowan Ackroyd and the resistant group that retaliated against Braylen Ackroyd and Bregan Banshaw. He can be trusted” Demetrius Zika announced, pushing through the crowd until he reached the front clearly having seen the gathering and become intrigued.

Wren Tornsey, who also appeared to spawn from nowhere to stand beside Demetrius, followed up Demetrius’ speech “I will vouch for him also” he said.

“I am of the knowledge that it is a dangerous task, so I will simply ask who would like to volunteer” Nerina stated calmly, her eyes scanning the whispering crowd.

“Maybe it’s best if I go alone,” Monty said in a hushed voice to Nerina.

“You cannot do it alone”

“Where has that positive thinking gone?” he asked with a playful tone but Nerina didn’t find it as uplifting as he hoped as she bestowed a disheartened gaze.

“I would like to volunteer,” Demetrius said raising a hand “I came here to offer supplies to Salatia and in effect, Nirvariten also. If I can offer more assistance then I would be more than willing, I have left my village in capable hands. Should I not return, they have instructions for the passing months to come.”

“I am infinitely grateful for your help, a new election for your village will not be necessary, alongside Monty I assure you that all will be well,” she said, the optimism returning.

“I too would like to volunteer. I will not fail my mission as I did the other. I wish to prove my worth to our capital and to you, My Lady”

“There is no need for you to prove anything, Wren. IF you are sure of this then I will no dissuade you of your choice” she said with a curt nod in his direction that she also directed to Demetrius soon after.

Observing the groups of her people, their eyes failing to meet hers, she asked one last time “Would anyone else like to accept this task?” although no one spoke up.

“I am aware and understand the hardship we are all going through and I do not shame anyone for choosing against this task. I will, however, present another assignment to you all, one separate from the one at hand. It will require each and every one of you to support and care for one another, unity is important in a time such as this and we need to maintain the strong bond between each household” she said willing a sense of pride and motivation into even Monty’s mind, she truly was a magnificent leader, one that could connect with her people like no other.

“For the volunteers, please follow me” Nerina ended with, the accumulated people already dispatching into the street.

Four of the seven High Council members met Monty, Nerina, Demetrius and Wren in the open hall that sat adjacent to the fountain hall, which looked none the healthier in the days he’d been there.

They presented the trio with three lanterns and a map which they gratefully took.

“I will show you the way,” Nerina said.

“Keep an eye on Nathan, if Kyril thinks he’s made a cure then don’t hesitate to give it to him. Even if it kills him, it would mean his life didn’t go to waste, he’ll die anyway if he doesn’t get a cure. Give him a chance to live”

“I will, you should hurry. There’s no knowing what can happen as every second ticks by”

“If we’re not back in four hours, presume we are dead,” he said.

“Seems a though you have found the line pessimism and preparation”

Raising his hand, palm facing down, he tilted it to the right and left a few times with a mixture of a sideways smile and a grimace on his face.

“Lead the way” Wren mentioned as quietness fell.

Demetrius, who looked to the man with a questioning brow, pointed to his hands “You are the one with the map, you may lead the way”

“So it seems,” he said with a tut directed to himself.

“I will lead you as far as I know, after that it’s up to you to direct us” Monty informed them, his long legs striding towards the stairway near the fountain hall.

To say he was tired of the dark and caves would be short, Monty didn’t want to see another cavern for as long as he lived and he definitely didn’t want to have to travel inside one, they were extremely hazardous and unnecessarily eerie.

In the first cavern, the combination of light from the three lanterns cast light much further than the single one Fraya held on heir first descent.

Speaking of, the glass that had shattered from the previous lantern still remained amongst the pebbly shore, it caught the light now and then and threw it a short ways from the translucent material in a bright dot of light that repeatedly drew his attention as if he was detecting movement.

Ignoring the shivers running laps up and down his spine, he points over to the barely noticeable entrance to their right, holding up his lantern at arm's length he spoke up, keeping the creatures in mind as he did so.

“That’s the way we need to go” he stated nodding his head to exaggerate the direction and placement of their task.

“Was there that much seaweed earlier?” Demetrius asked, his eyes fixed to the rippling water as he took a step towards it.

“Stay back, there’s no time to take risks,” Monty said with a slight snap in his tone.

With his hands raised in surrender, Demetrius backed away from the water's edge, he and Wren both left to choose whether they wished to continue on as Monty reached the hidden gap in the cave wall.

“Wren should go first with the map” Demetrius suggested.

“Right, yes, of course” he stammered peering into the darkness that held no form or silhouettes, the cave walls not even perceptible.

Nevertheless, he stepped forward, his chest and back caught on jutting rock as he shuffled sideways through the crevice, similar shuffling noises and huffs of annoyance from Monty and Demetrius ensuing.

Waiting a second for them to have all passed through the first obstacle, Wren turned to their next, steps carved steeply into the cavern slope.

The tunnel down was rather claustrophobic, at times they were forced to crouch or walk sideways as they squeezed through tight passes, all the while trying to keep their footing on the damp stone.

After, what had to have been an hour and a half of trekking, they reached a fork in the tunnels.

“Make the right choice” Monty had mentioned to Wren who analysed the map closely, not wanting to miss a turn or dead end further on up the map.

“To the right” Wren insisted, his finger running along the path, stopping on the end destination labelled The Waterway.

“Are you sure?” Demetrius asked

“I can read a map comprehensively, I am sure” he replied needlessly as Monty stormed on ahead.

The uneven terrain was making it hard on Monty’s muscles, despite him being a consistent runner, there were many more trip hazards below ground and combined with the musky thick air, it made it feel like much more effort than it actually was.

“So you are the leader of Ivory village? You have done well for yourself, I hear it is a well-respected village” Wren asked to pass the time.

“I am indeed, although it is not just my village that should be praised, there are many that hold the same standards, some even higher”

“True. I know of a boy from Ivory, goes by the name of Mayfel”

“How interesting, he is a smart kid. How is it you know of him?” Demetrius stated.

“He and a winged boy comer through here before the battle of Crestfold, Mayfel had been injured”

“I see”

Dwelling on his thoughts for a moment, Wren fell to admitting his worries “I wish to see them again, to apologise. Things were not the best and I which to reconcile with them. Afterall, they did save us all”

“Trust me, Mayfel would have moved on by now, Kaydence is the one you might have to watch out for. I don’t know much about him, but I can tell he’s one to hold a grudge”

The next foot Monty dropped onto the damp, moss infested step, fell from under him, his body somehow staying upright as he ungracefully glided down a couple of steps.

His hands scraped along the walls, searching in a panicked frenzy for something to grab a hold of, he did indeed find something, although the blade-like rock jutting out from the wall was one he didn’t wish to have grasped.

The perfectly sharpened slither, sliced through the flesh on is palm, a gash spilling blood dripped and joined the steady, trickle of a stream down the side of the steps.

In the dark, he couldn’t see the damage to its full extent, but he could feel it, the ranging burning sensation and the twitching of his fingers as they tried to manage the discomfort.

Demetrius and Wren, with even more caution in their movements, reached a couple of steps behind him, the light that followed cast shadows over Monty but it was enough for him to see the wound.

Untying the green cloth from around his wrist, Demetrius handed it over to Monty who took it without so much as a look to his eyes.

“Thank you” he mumbled in reply, his fingers fumbling with the fabric in an attempt to tie it.

“Not a problem, we In Ivory wear them at all times for this reason. Working in the fields and around livestock can be dangerous” he replied whilst handing his lantern to Wren and assisting Monty’s struggle.

“Are you alright? You look as though you may have twisted your ankle also” Wren spoke up having seen the agonising way he’d fallen.

“Are we getting close to the source?” was all Monty said as he continued on his way.

Peering at the map with squinting eyes, Wren followed the trail they were on “Follow the way we are going, there shouldn’t be any splits in the tunnel. According to this, it is a straight shot to the main waterway”

Reassured when their feet hit flat ground, Monty kept up the relentless pace forcing the two Fae to keep up, even if he had twisted his ankle he wasn’t showing it.

“I wonder what it feels like for the middle aged humans, they’re all limber in their youth, like long legs in front of us. Even though we live longer and age slower, I have to admit, I reckon I know what those humans must feel like when their libs start to cease up” Wren stated with a grunt as he stretched out his legs.

“Tell me about it, I do miss the days when I could go for runs in the early mornings” Demetrius agreed.

From up ahead, Monty joined the conversation, although not slowing down to physically be near to them when he replied “Aren’t you both still, technically, classed as young among your people?”

“Yes, we’re about a quarter of the way through the Fae life expectancy” Demetrius confirmed, his voice informative like a teacher.

“How old does that make you exactly?”

“Has no one told you that it is rude to ask a man’s age?” Wren said with slight distaste, his proper and polite side showing from years in the capital.

“Are you going to tell me or not?” Monty persisted.

“Forty-three” Demetrius stated earning a rare glance from over Monty’s shoulder.

“I am Fifty years of age” Wren tagged on afterwards, his voice purposefully muffled as his eyes drifted to the map that he obviously could not see with his lantern near his thigh.

“You both look like you’re in your mid-thirties”

“Our bodies stop ageing at certain points, that’s why some appear to be much younger than others. Of course we do not stop ageing as children, the youngest would be eighteen as the body begins to slow its growth, but it can range anywhere after that” Demetrius explained, his voice resembling a teacher, once again making Monty question if it had been a temporary occupation in his village.

“So not all of you will look old when you die?”

“Correct. The odd few age with time like you humans, but the majority freeze time, in a sense” Wren said, seemingly having recovered from the realisation of his age.

“Does it get boring, being alive for so long?”

Both men were quiet, for a time, he supposed it was a difficult question to answer on the spot, if someone would have asked him the same he wasn’t sure he’d be able to answer either.

It was Demetrius who answered, out of the two Fae, from what Monty had learned so far, he was the one to think long and hard for his reply, and took emotions of others into consideration.

Wren on the other hand assessed things in a more political view, how everything would affect those around him in the capital and how that would then change things in Arravan.

“At times, it makes you question why we were chosen to uphold such a long lifetime. Especially before the Trinity War when the older generations had to watch their human friends and family pass with time, while they went on to live another two to three lifetimes.”

“Life does not get boring, we have our roles. Demetrius sees to it that Ivory is run correctly, I myself have a shop and a family. It is like living your life now, but for longer”

“Okay, so not boring. But doesn’t it get tough, working every day doing the same thing for so long?” Monty rephrased.

Answering again before Wren, Demetrius spoke his mind with honesty, it was something Monty found refreshing, the fact he didn’t try to sugar-coat everything.

“It can, however, there’s so much to live for and to try. It is a shame though that the Trinity War happened, life could have been more eventful living with you lot”

“It sounds like you blame us humans for the war” Monty said with accusation in his tone.

“Absolutely not” Wren began, having beaten Demetrius to it, not that he seemed to mind as he lent an ear to his new acquaintance “We all know of who was at fault, nevertheless, we all had a part in the shockwave caused by the revolution. We are all to blame”

“Did you both fight in the war?” he asked hoping it wouldn’t be too insensitive for him to ask.

“I did, alongside my uncle who was not as fortunate”

“My parents and I fled, my younger sister was at too much risk and should anything have happened to my parents, I was in no way fit to protect her. I was only a young boy who had learnt nought of self-defence and so I sought refuge n Lirren” Demetrius recounted.

“What happened to your sister?”

“She is living in The City of Embers last I heard,” he said contently.

“And you were left to run a village? That doesn’t sound very fair if you ask me” Monty admitted.

“I was not left to run it, my father was not the leader of Ivory before me. I ran for the position when the previous leader passed away, I was simply elected by the townspeople and village council”

“So it’s not always passed down, you have some form of democracy then?”

“Humans and fae are not so different like some would have you believe. Weare one in the same” Demetrius mentioned, a phrase Monty had heard a few times within the Ravens, yet he still found it hard to mull over.

The lanterns light, once bright in the narrow confines of the tunnels, dimmed and panned out into the darkness of a more open area although nowhere near as wide or long as the cavern they were previously in, but it gave them room to stretch their arms and chests and to finally catch their breaths.

To their left, a crashing waterfall sat cascading from the ceiling into a rippling pool below, undoubtedly the end of the seemingly bottomless lake from upstairs.

It did make him wonder though if the pool in the cavern above could hold that much water that then fed don through the waterfall into the pool before them, how deep was it exactly, was it an indefinite void?

The water from the pool ran in streams from it, forced into black bedrock grooves that further along spewed out into gushing rivers, encased in arched tunnels.

If he had to guess, he’d put the stream's depth at about knee height and on first glances, one could walk through them if they wish, the surface appearing calm and still, but he knew better than to step foot into silent waters.

The rapids that lurked beneath would be the death of you, clutching at your ankles until you were dragged beneath and swept away.

He could smell that something wasn’t right, there was no purity to it or the earthy scent, instead, it smelled as Nathan’s hospital room did.

The wreak of poison and illness, he couldn’t put it into exact words but it was the best he could do.

“Don’t touch the water” he instructed, keeping his eyes on the seaweed already spilling over the fae-made riverbeds, one lot heaped so high that it had already begun to block one of the tunnels.

Standing in the centre, between the six rushing gullies, was a lever, wooden and seemingly sturdy.

“That must be the way to close gates” Wren pointed out, pocketing the map.

“It might take us all to close it” Demetrius added thoughtfully.

“Agreed, but keep an eye out for the seaweed and don’t get too close. Step lightly”

As instructed, the trio stepped over the streams as best as they could, being be sure to take the slippery floor into consideration, not wanting a repeat of Monty’s tumble earlier on.

Monty, keeping his eyes on the area around his feet, reached the lever first, his lantern that he placed down on the ground soon accompanied by Wren’s and Demetrius’ as they joined him.

Demetrius took up the one side, as Wren and Monty grabbed the other side they counted up to three, their bodies readying to put in all their might.

On three, Demetrius pushed and Wren and Monty pulled and slowly but surely, the metal base of the lever began to creak, a scraping noise shrieking out around the room as rust began to give way and the bar started to move.

Easing up their movements, they drew it closer to the ground until all three of them were pushing on it.

The creaking of metal and the grinding of stone came from behind then and it only got louder until the deafening wails echoed and bounced from the walls in every direction.

Cascading water ceased as did the rushing water beneath their feet leaving only the drip dripping of water from the ceiling as the last drops fell to their unmoving fate.

“Well, that went better than I thought it would” Demetrius huffed, stretching out his back.

“We may have closed it off, but it is still poisoning the land. It is not over yet and solutions are of great importance” Wren mentioned almost as a reminder to them.

“At least it’s one less thing to worry about, it’s a tick on our lists. Now we should head back” he stated, his eyes, however, scanning over the seaweed that had turned brown and had already started to wither and die with the lowered water levels.

“Lady Nerina Will be expecting us”

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