Chapter Five: Light The Way
Nerina, as if gliding over ice, lead Fraya and the human trio down into the very base level of Salatia’s capital building.
Flaming silver lantern in hand, its metalwork mirroring the waves of the ocean held rectangular panes of glass in place, allowing the candlelight watch idly through it.
The majority of Salatia sat strongly over the underwater cave system, it made it easier for the water supply to be distributed to the homes and rivers around it.
But, with the Lamia rose infecting every drop of water running through it, they had no choice but to shut it off and pray for the surrounding lands to offer them aid.
Of course, Fraya knew the human city would offer no services, it was in their nature to e selfish.
She supposed having lived amongst them for so long, she too had grown accustomed to there ways, having to scavenge and claw at the sliding world below her just to survive, it made her selfish and shallow and definitely more thick-skinned, less inclined to help devilishly handsome men that ask for her help one might say.
Stopping in a stone room, the sounds of lapping water echoed around them, it was a mostly empty room with only a bucket or two tucked away in the corner.
In front of them, where they expected there to be another stone wall was instead the beginning of the cave, stalactites hung from the roughly shaped ceiling and stalagmites rose from the ground giving the cave mouth the illusion of rows upon rows of jagged teeth.
“You want us to go in there?” Nathan asked Nerina.
Calmly she responded “If you wish to help, then yes. It will lead you to the main source of water which runs in from the ocean. It is diluted and cleaned of impurities by the earth however with the Lamia Rose, I do not suggest you drink it for any reason.” she informed them stopping briefly for them to show their understanding, with nods received she continued “From there you must travel down another passage, at the end you will find where the water filters into the shut-off valve will be there”
Before Nathan could say anything else that would convince Fraya even more that he should have been left at Evangelis, she replied “We’ll do what we can”
“I will wait for your arrival at the fountain, I must send word to the surrounding lands and inform them of the ill-nature taking over before it is too late”
“Could you also send word to the King? He must know what is happening here. Request for him to send Ida here, she may know a thing or two about how to free the stone or at least what is happening to it” she said taking the lantern from Nerina’s offering hand.
“I will now hurry”
With a firm grip on the lantern, Fraya proceeded towards the cave.
She cautiously avoided the mineral formations, not that the ground she stepped on was any better in terms of flatness and trip hazards.
Nathan’s voice chatted behind her but to her dismay, she had to bear listening to echoes of his voice repeating the words over and over as if there were more than one of him.
No one responded to Nathan’s questions, not that he seemed to notice and just answered them himself as he continued on, Evan had caught up to Fraya and began walking beside her leaving Monty to deal with the blabbering man.
“You always look so serious” Evan stated
Between gritted teeth, she responded “It is because there is always something serious happening”
“Try to relax a little” he suggested as if it was such an easy thing to do.
“It is a hard thing to do when that child back there won’t shut up” Fraya snapped before continuing on to say “If I find myself in danger, I will not hesitate to leave any of you behind”
Ignoring her aggression Evan asked, “Why do you hate him so much?”
She simply replied “he’s childish”
“He does have a serious side like the rest of us though. And he did save Zack’s life in the battle, he fought on the right side too. He’s stronger than he lets on”
“I do not care, just remind him that we are on a mission, not on the way to a park” she warned before storming off ahead.
The group travelled down a gradual decline that zigzagged in long lengths, all the while the noise of water grew closer as did the stench of damp earth and stale water.
The sounds reminded Fraya of the small water displays dotted throughout the city, or at least the one’s she remembered that hadn’t been destroyed in the war.
One she recalled vividly sat in the small square, many children would gather and play around the fountain in the high summers.
Fraya however, wouldn’t.
She much preferred to sit under the shade of the oak tree with a book as she grew older, some would say she acted older than her age and they weren’t completely wrong.
She always preferred to be around adults than people her own age, they could understand her better and weren’t as blunt with answers, although adults were undoubtedly more judgemental when it came to her abilities.
Children didn’t care or understand why her eyes were purple, they just saw them as pretty and let their unfiltered words pour out with compliments and questions, none of which she answered.
The people who had been raised here were different, despite knowing that she wasn’t related to them by blood she never blamed them for anything, never spat out harsh words when she was angry or frustrated because she knew they had given up much of their own lived to raise a stray child left on their doorstep.
Something many would have failed to do.
The path beneath them, as uneven and slippery as it was, gave way to the much rougher ground as they came to a shoreline of sorts, made up of loose rocks and pebbles.
The lantern in her hand cut through the dark showing an endless, inky black lake, hints of rippled and gushing water that echoed from way back in the cavern, the water filtering in from the ocean no doubt just like Nerina had told them.
Monty, Nathan and Evan stood either side of her as she stretched her arm out hoping to cast the light just a little further as to catch a glimpse of the water's entrance to the cave, but it appeared that the eroded room spanned out further than they thought.
“If that over there” Nathan began pointing to the sound of rushing water “Is the waters way in. Then, where is the way out?”
With more than a little hesitation Fraya replied making sure to keep her tone sharp “You know as much as we do” as she stepped to the water's edge.
Evan looked where he could with the limited lighting, he scanned the walls for a crevice or a hole but came up empty.
Nathan who had crouched down near the water, close enough so that it was just able to skim the toe of his boot, looked at the lake before dipping his index finger into it.
Drawing it back out he smothered the liquid between his finger and thumb giving it a light sniff.
“It doesn’t smell good” he concluded as he wiped it off on his trousers.
“Well, it won’t because of the crystal. You should try paying attention, how about you help look for the water's exit so we can leave sooner?” Fraya snapped, her patience wearing thin.
Unaffected by her words he simply says “I found it” bringing Monty, Evan and Fraya to look at him.
Monty speaking up for the first time that Fraya had ever heard asks the question they were all wondering “Where?”
Nathan pointed to the water “It’s like a sink, the water flows in from over there and collects in here. The water flows out from the bottom”
“It’s not a bad theory” Even admitted.
“Only problem now is finding where the door to the shut-off point is, if it has been blocked by a collapse in the ceiling then there would be no way for us to get to the point we need unless one of us were to swim down” Monty piped up.
“And do you want to be our first volunteer” Fraya mocked just as an almighty splash entered the cavern from the darkness.
Seeing it as probably nothing more than rocks and earth giving ay under the waters pressure, Fraya instructed them to search for the passageway.
Nathan, who was still crouching down, let his fingers rest just beneath the surface feeling the cool rippled rise and fall as they dispersed from afar.
As the others spoke behind him, Nathan noticed a chunk of seaweed floating across the lake towards him.
It must have gotten caught up in the current and forced through the underwater cave system he thought to himself, his eyes sparkling with childish mischief as a thought comes to mind.
Reaching forward his fingers gripped a tendril of seaweed, he yanked the rest closer so it was in reach and bringing his hand down to take a fistful of the slimy plant he stood up.
“Hey, Monty” he called over.
With a hum in response from the man as he turned around to face him, Nathan attempted to launch the pile of seaweed at him, knowing it was something he wasn’t fond of.
As he did so his arm and body were brought to a halt, excruciating pain tore down his forearm eliciting a shrill cry that reverberated off of the jagged walls.
All eyes were on him as the seaweed curled up his forearm, wrapping itself around his shoulders.
Evan stepped forward to ask what was wrong but before he could even manage to take a second step Nathan was yanked backwards into the black abyss.
Evan was on his knees, his arm at shoulders depth within the water desperately swishing around in search of a hand, an arm, of anything belonging to Nathan that he could grab and try to pull him out.
Monty was doing the dame as Fraya stood back holding the lantern, her eyes flickering across the rippling surface, she might not like them, but wishing death on them wasn’t something she would do either.
Calling over to Monty Evan asks if he had found anything, both had the same reply which pushed Monty to work his way to the very edge, his fingers clutching the end of the ledge that surely lead to a sheer drop.
He could feel the current pulling down adding more proof to Nathan’s theory, he used every muscle he had to keep his entire body balanced as to reach down deeper.
Swaying his hand from left to right repeatedly he finally caught a hold of something, it felt like fabric.
Not wasting another second he began to drag what he had a hold of up towards the surface.
“I’ve got something” he yelled.
Evan was soon beside him, they both had fists of the material and weren’t backing down despite their trembling muscles.
The next thing Evan knew, there was a hand clasped onto his wrist.
He was alive, Nathan was still alive, it brought some relief to know but the air bubbles emerging and bubbling along the surface was quickly darkening his hope. He was losing his breath, and fast.
Grabbing Nathan’s wrist instead, he began to pull finally feeling their efforts paying off as Nathan was drawn nearer and nearer, inch by inch.
Evan readjusted his grasp, moving his hands further up Nathan’s arm, his body reeling Nathan in like a fish on a line as they heaved his entire body from the chilling depths, both falling back with Nathan’s body slumped over them.
He began coughing and spluttering, his body aggressively shuddering as he barely held even breaths.
Fraya approached him, the light caught his eye sending his hand out towards it, slapping the lantern from her hand it clattered against the ground one of the panes shattering.
The flame barely survived the ordeal and had Fraya moving fast to nurse it back to health before it completely went out.
Evan was drawing Nathan’s body towards his own, his arms hugging the shaken man as he listened to the disturbed and unintelligible mutters from him.
It wasn’t hard to see the open gashes slicing deep through Nathan’s flesh all the way up either arm, ring-shaped splotches imprinted alongside each one, all of which soon became coated as blood trickled freely from the wounds.
He made no sound of pain, most likely too shocked to realise what was happening.
“We need to get him out of here” Evan spoke up, keeping his voice low as to not startle the man in his arms.
Fraya who kept her tone matter of factly said “We’ve come too far to go back”
“I don’t care” Evan snapped having had enough of her attitude “I’m going back, you can carry on alone for all I care”
Looking at the shrinking candle in the lantern she sighed, he was right, they needed to head back. It was just aggravating knowing they were so close.
Evan, with the help of Monty, began to try and arrange Nathan between them, in a position that would be at least a little more comfortable for him.
They both shuffled their way after Fraya following the lanterns glow.