Chapter Nine: Darkness Grows In The Shadows
In the dark gut of the cave, their footsteps echoed eerily and in a disorientating fashion around them as they neared the main cave.
Fraya could honestly say she wasn’t looking forward to it, the stench seemed to have only gotten worse with the added scent of salt, not to mention the dropping temperature that she certainly didn’t remember being so bitter.
A number of deep splashes from the cavern ahead sent them haphazardly stumbling down the tunnel which, in the light of the lanterns, was a risky move to make given the uneven terrain with hidden crevices and mineral growths.
The causes of the splashes became apparent when they reached the water's edge, or what would have been the water's edge had they been able to see the rippling liquid.
Masses of seaweed, piled up and sloshing over the entirety of the water's surface caught them all off guard.
“How is that possible?!” Evan cried out in defeat “It’s only been an hour”
“It explains how they reached the docks. If they can grow or even multiply this fast then we have less time than we thought” Fraya added, not to lift the mood or particularly make it worse, she was simply speaking her mind.
Monty crouched down near the plant-like heap, his eyes observed it in the candlelight as he called Fraya and Evan over, they too lent their light to him and it was enough for them all to see the slithering tendrils of seaweed.
But more noticeable were the two lines of yellowish talons protruding from the underside of the plant strands, between each one, dotted at intervals were what looked to be suckers similar to that of an octopus, although they were much darker in their brownish colour.
The deep green limbs moved and swayed with the current, one in particular raised and began to slither back into the water revealing a tremendous, green, birch leaf floating atop the water.
Despite having never seen a leaf of that size before, it was not the detail that scared her the most, it was the eyes, black beads reflecting the light from the lamps.
“Well, that is a minor problem,” Evan said sarcastically as if to hide the fear welling in his chest.
“Try and get something from it, a talon would be best as it is most likely how the poison entered Nathan” Fraya replied
“You want me to try and reach in there and cut a chunk out? Are you actually mad?” Evan asked, his made hazy with fear and amazement.
Turning to face him, she replied “If you want to save Nathan, then yes”
With a sigh of defeat, Evan drew a blade from his belt and gave one last look at the pair as if it would be the last time he’d see them, pleading edging at his eyes for one of them to do it instead but neither of them volunteered and so the task was left to him.
Keeping an eye on the stationary limb, he wrapped a hand slowly around a claw taking a moment to breathe and see f the creature would react to his touch.
With nothing out of the ordinary, if any of it were ordinary, to begin with, he edged the blade to the base of the talon.
“Can you count to three?” he asked sheepishly over his shoulder.
“Fine but just hurry up” Fraya demanded.
As they began to count he waited in anticipation for the last number.
One, his muscles tensed, his grip tightening on the blade, two he applied a little more pressure to the talon.
Three, he swung the blade in an arch letting it slice directly through the soft plant base of the talon, his hand tightened around the claw as Evan leapt back with the others expecting the tentacle-like arm to reach out and grab them.
But, nothing happened, the weed moved itself underwater as if stretching.
“Here” Fraya spoke up holding out the biggest vile of the bunch.
Evan dropped it into the glass cylinder letting it clink around as it settled.
“We should head back. The healers should get it as soon as possible” Monty suggested, already on the move and in the lead.
Evan stayed in step with Fraya, they remained silent for a while listening to the tip taps of water in far off puddles.
“Do you think Nathan will be okay?” Evan said unable to keep quiet.
“I don’t know,” she said but added “He’s with the best people he could be with” seeing the concern on his face, she was seen by some as cold-hearted but it couldn’t be further from the truth, she felt sympathy and empathy for others, she just wasn’t skilled in being too supportive.
“Not exactly, the best place for him is Evangelis, with their healers”
“There’s not much we can do about that, but at least he is with some form of help” she assured.
“I guess you’re right,” Evan said as he exhaled “If he gets better, would you read his memories?” he asked.
“You mean when he gets better” Fraya corrected before continuing “Yes I will, but only if he allows it. It is much harder for me to do so if the participant is unwilling to share memories, it can be painful for them and a tricky procedure for me. Besides, with permission from the participant, it means less legal action can be taken against me”
Intrigued and slightly worried as to what she had endured during her career, Evan asked “So you’ve done it against someone’s will before?”
“I have, once,” she said, she wasn’t proud of it but she was sure if others had been in her situation they would have done the same, at least that was what she told herself after the fact to make herself feel less selfish.
“I prefer not to speak of it, I was young, stupid and ignorant. I have learnt more about my powers and what they do to others”
Taking a moment to think over her answer, Evan produced another train of thought.
“You can see memories by holding objects, right?”
“I can” she confirmed.
“Couldn’t you have seen Nathan’s memories through the photo Monty had?”
“No, I can only see memories tied to the specific object. I would have only seen the say it was taken and any time it had been in his possession since then, but since Monty had it with him when Nathan was attacked, it would hold no help.”
“I see,” Evan said in reply slightly disheartened as well as questioning why Monty had the photograph in the first place.
“When using objects to see the past, although I am not directly touching the person it belongs to, it still holds a connection to them so as I sift through the memories linked to the object it still affects the owner the same way as if I were reading them directly.”
“I understand, thank you” he stated, pushing on as light appeared in front of them.
The temperature began to gradually rise giving the air a muggy feeling, not that Fraya was complaining, she much preferred the warmth to the icy cool caverns.
She wished she could do more for them, why? She didn’t entirely know but perhaps it was because she too at times felt helpless and knew how frustrating it was to look from the sidelines.
As the newly founded trio rushed up the steps, leaving the lanterns at the cave entrance.
Monty was taking two steps at a time sometimes even three, he had the vile outstretched in his hand like he was ready to hand it to another person at the top of the steps, but as he reached the top he continued.
Fraya and Evan reached the top simultaneously and in time to see Monty go on through the doorway and undoubtedly towards the infirmary.
There was no chance for them to catch up to the long-legged man and no saying they would be able to keep up even if they did, so to conserve the little energy their quaking legs held to keep themselves upright, they slowed their pace.
In Fraya’s silent opinion, Monty gave a new meaning to tall, dark and handsome, she could admire his looks but it didn’t account for his morbid and pessimistic personality, no one was perfect though not even herself or her people, the humans were no exception either.
She and Evan passed through a corridor of archways into the open air, their pace falling slower still as they strolled down the paved street.
Fraya couldn’t make eye contact with anyone she passed too afraid she’d recognise their faces or them hers.
If only she could help them more, she thought that perhaps after the damage Bregan had caused everything would have fallen back into place and they’d be able to continue with their lives as if it hadn’t happened.
Call her naive, but she hadn’t lost anyone of significance in that time like the others, she had no one close enough to her to miss so it would be easy for her to assume a normal life, just not for the rest of humanity.
One thing was for sure, Bregan was right when he had said his plans weren’t complete, no matter how much she wanted normality to settle back in, the nagging feeling kept her conscious like seeing dark clouds roll in signifying a storm with the thick air weighing heavy in the lungs.
The infection that spurred on the madness Bregan stood for, still existed, buried deep within the earth's veins, she could feel it.
There was more to come, there was no saying if the creature were the work of the stones or perhaps a dastardly plan concocted by Bregan himself that was not being implemented.
If her suspicions were right, then there were more people involved, others that worked closer to Bregan than the King believed.
But were they any more dangerous than Bregan was?