Tales of Aranea: Of Sage and Mist

All Rights Reserved ©

Mist

Adam lies very still, mostly because too much is broken for him not to lie still. He’s lying on something hard and flat, behind the brunt of the falls, where only the heavy spray can reach him. He tries to blink away the water, but there’s too much of it. It drains down somewhere below him, further into the abyss, but he can’t see it. He can hardly see anything.

There’s a pile of wood planks not far from him, and splinters scattered all around. Where did they come from? A pool of blood, diluted by the constant spray, surrounds him and covers most of the ground. His?

He shuts his eyes, fighting the cold that encases him, that solidifies the water hitting his face. Coraleth.

She must be dead. She couldn’t have survived the fall. Asparri were far tougher than humans, and he himself is too far gone to feel much physical pain. But he can’t let himself die, not without knowing for sure. Perhaps she got snagged on a branch and survived. Perhaps she landed in a deep pool somewhere far below, and is in need of his help.

Reluctant to give up, Adam turns his head and squints hard through the white wall that seems to surround him. There’s a dark shape not far away. Actually, there’s more than one. He struggles to make it out, blinking hard.

A group of jagged boulders, clustered together and blending into the mountain somewhere beyond them. And at the base of them, a body.

Adam looks back at the blood, then at himself. He’s in his Mericas state, the true form of Asparri, the one that they transition to when they’re injured, close to death. But bones don’t bleed.

It isn’t mine...

Twisting his head, he extends his tongue and flicks up some of the blood, tasting water and stones. It’s too diluted to be of great help, but it’s enough to give him strength to lift his head. He feels himself transition, senses the hair on his head, the skin on his face, the broken bones of his broken body.

“C-Coraleth!” he calls out. The roar of the falls drowns out his voice.

Frustrated at his own weakness, he licks more blood with his human tongue, which proves to be much more difficult, then moves and gasps at the flames licking his body.

“Coraleth!” he shouts louder. “Milo!”

Nothing still. He steels himself and tries to roll over, then groans as his ribs collapse inward. Tears pool in his eyes.

Then he hears something. Any sound but his dying voice and the roar of the falls is welcome, but this one confuses him. It’s a pitiful horse whinny, rather close too. Adam squints harder at the body at the bottom of the rocks. It’s a horse.

His blood runs cold again. Milo...

“Milo! Coraleth!”

He transitions back to Mericas, hoping that will lessen the pain. Then he laps at the blood again. He knew the taste was familiar. Animal blood. Knowing it wasn’t Milo’s or Coraleth’s blood he was drinking relieves him enough to allow himself to roll over completely. He can feel the broken bones in his legs and arms starting to heal. More blood. More strength.

The pain slinks away, and Adam inches forward on his elbows on the hard stone, toward the horse dying on the rocks. Sucking in a painful breath, he leans down to lap more blood. Then forward, forward. Slow and trembling. Water and blood and tears drip down his face.

The falls have carved out the edge of this platform—what Adam had previously thought was solid ground. He must have fallen farther into the mountain than he thought. The water falls heavier closer to the edge, where the horse lies, awkwardly draped over the rocks that rise upwards. Adam follows the lines of its bridle and harness to the edge of the platform, where the ropes are pulled tight, suffocating the animal.

He peers over the edge, and through the cloud of white, he sees the wagon, hanging on by only the rope attached to the horse caught in the rocks. Adam tries to make out the wagon bed, but can’t see anything through the heavy spray.

“Milo!” he shouts down. Below the hanging wagon, there’s nothing. No rocks or platforms. Just nothingness.

And then: “Adam!”

“Milo, you’re alive!” Adam calls down, nearly weeping in his relief.

“I lost her body.”

“What?”

“Rain, she’s gone. She fell. I’m tangled up in some ropes.”

Adam follows the ropes downward, trying to see her. Then he looks back at the horse. It’s poor face and neck is drawn to the rocks by the weight of the wagon. It whimpers pitifully and tries to move, but it seems that its legs are broken. Blood flows from gashes and scrapes all over its body. Adam thinks to put it out of its misery.

“Cut the rope, Adam,” Milo calls from below.

“No,” he replies. “Climb up here.”

“I can’t. I’m stuck. And if I wasn’t, I’d still jump. I’m not going on.”

“Enough of that. Without Rain’s body, we don’t have to go back to Hale. We’ll travel somewhere else, start a new life with new names and new stories. It’s possible to get beyond this.”

“No it isn’t. You just think that because you’re going to live for hundreds of years longer than we are. You’re still young.”

“You’re young too. You have an entire life to live.”

The falls cut out much of the conversation, but every once in awhile, Adam hears Milo sobbing.

“Just cut the rope,” she shouts up finally. “I’m begging you.”

Adam begins to transition, but before he’s fully Mericas, he says, “No!” Pain still wracks his body, and as jagged teeth grow from his jaws, he watches his breath escape in powerful huffs that blow away the falling droplets of water. Then he lowers himself on the horse, silencing its whines of agony.

The blood invigorates him, but it takes a lot to really heal him enough to stand. He ravages the animal’s throat before moving to its chest and tearing out its heart.

“What are you doing?” he hears Milo yell, just before he downs the heart whole.

The blood saturates his charcoal bones, bringing new life to his muscles, strengthening the delicate protein between each break. Even his pounding headache clears away. Involuntarily, he lifts his horns and roars to the falls, a screechy sound that penetrates the very stone.

Adam seizes the rope lodged tightly between the rocks, ensuring it is secure. Then he climbs up into the jagged spires and surveys the hanging wreckage. In this state, he is able to see clearer, sensing the heat energy of Milo’s body down below. The wagon hangs precariously, dangerously close to the unrelenting column of the falls, and looks as if much additional weight will snap the rope and send the whole thing plummeting downward. But Milo can’t climb upward, so he must climb down. Thankfully, in his Mericas state, he’s much lighter than he would be in his Eximius, or human, state.

Carefully, he squeezes through the rocks and curls himself around the rope. Then, ever so slowly, he descends, the wagon gently turning below him, water from the falls dripping from his bones.

“What are you doing?” Milo asks again, more urgently. He knows his appearance unsettles her, even now. All he does is growl in response. Conversation isn’t easy like this.

When he’s almost there, Adam looks down, finally able to see Milo fully. She’s caught up in some extra rope, thank goodness, not the reins. Those are pulled so tightly among the notches in the broken front panels that, if she had been caught in them, they’d have strangled her. As it stands, she hangs by ropes around her arms and shoulders, taut from getting snagged on the seats.

“I-I think my shoulders are out-of-place. I can’t really feel my arms anymore,” Milo stutters.

Silently, Adam reaches down for her, moving his skeletal black hand through the twisting rope. He pulls at them with his clawlike fingertips, until some sever. But she’s still caught so tightly. The wagon creaks loudly. Still, Adam grabs Milo’s wrist and hauls her upward.

The whole wagon shivers and jolts down. Milo screams, and a rasping sound escapes Adam’s throat. He looks upward, where he can see the horse pressed tightly against the crack of the rock above, nearly squeezing through.

“It’s all going to fall if you continue, Adam. Then we’ll both die. Go back up.” She sobs, her face soaked with tears and water from the falls. “Find Coraleth.”

Adam moans in frustration and ignores her. He cannot think of Coraleth now. He must save Milo. With one hand gripping the rope above and one holding Milo’s arm, he lets out a growl and pulls her up, loosening the ropes around her. The wagon creaks loudly again, swaying.

The ropes slink off of Milo as he brings her closer to himself. She grabs the seat awkwardly to hold herself up.

“I...I can’t feel my arms,” she says tremulously.

Adam barks at her to try and hold onto him, but she, of course, can’t understand the sounds. Without full use of her arms, she slides down and he gasps and grips her wrist. She locks eyes with him.

“I wish my last picture of you would be of the real you,” she says, suddenly soft.

The wagon creaks and shifts again. Desperately, he calls to her, but her eyes have glazed over. He can feel her twist her wrist out of his hand.

“I’m so sorry, Adam. Forgive me someday, all right?” she requests.

Adam wants to transition to scream at her not to let go, to find the strength to go on. But if he does, his weight will bring this whole thing down. So he just whimpers pitifully, struggling to regain his grasp on her wrist.

“Find Coraleth,” Milo tells him. “Find her, and be happy.”

With a final jerk of her wrist, she releases his grip on her. Adam lets out a long screech as he claws the air for her again, but she’s falling, getting lost in the white of the spray, still looking into his dull grey eyes lovingly, like she had when she found him all those years ago.

Adam can feel himself transition before he loses sight of her. Reluctantly, he turns his eyes up and starts to climb, wildly racing up the length of the shivering rope before it snaps in half. Leaping, he seizes the edge of the rocky platform and scrambles onto it. Vaguely, he hears the wagon being ripped apart in the power of the falls.

Still not fully human, Adam leans over the edge. His screech turns to Milo’s name somewhere in the middle. Then he falls limply to the ground and weeps, the sounds of his grief lost somewhere in the roar of the falls. How many will he lose this day?

Coraleth.

He’s got to find her. She can’t be far. She let go of him somewhere in the beginning of their descent, and he fell closer to the edge of the platform than she had. Could she still be alive? Adam tries not to raise his hopes. What if she isn’t? Would he himself leap into the abyss and hope for death?

For him, it might not come so easily.

Trembling, Adam gets up and turns, searching the water-soaked platform for her. He runs in circles, lost in the spray. He lets himself transition enough to sense any heat, and extends his half-human hands. Carefully, he sniffs the air. There’s so much animal blood around that it’s hard to smell anything else.

“Coraleth!” he shouts, still not totally human, so the sound is low and coarse, but he shouts it again anyway.

No response.

Turning about, running around, wiping the tears and water from his eyes, Adam searches. But the platform is empty. He’s sure he’s searched every inch of it.

Then he comes to the cliff face, where, far above, Coraleth had jumped and taken him with her. Could she have landed on one of the numerous rocky outcroppings? Does that mean she could still be alive? Adam leaps onto the wall and begins to climb, transitioning to get a better grip. As he ascends, he is jolted with the memory of climbing that cliff face with Coraleth during one of their first meetings. Pain crushes his heart. Oh Herus, please don’t let her be dead...

Adam lifts himself on the first precipice. Immediately, he smells blood, senses the heat of a human nearby. His heart immediately begins to pound and he glances around, until he narrows on the precipice just above him. He climbs, transitioning halfway up, then rolls onto the ledge.

There she is. Adam’s eyes scan over her, trying to piece together what he sees. And the cold spreads over him before he can process it. Water freezes against his body, turning everything to ice. When he drops to his knees next to her twisted body, ice chips break off him.

“Coraleth,” his voice cracks. The only warm thing on him is the tear that leaves his eye.

Her face is toward him, but her body is turned an entirely different direction. Blood flows from the massive gash in her side, where broken ribs protrude. A sharp stone from the platform juts out from that side, which must have been the cause of the break. Both legs lay very flat against the stone.

He bows over her, not touching her body, and cries heavily.

“That’s it then?” he sobs furiously. “You’ve just decided to leave me?” He seizes her hand and grimaces when her arm bends in three places. Ripping the ring off her finger, he holds it in front of her blank face. “’Undying!’” he shouts. “That’s what it says! That’s what you promised me!”

Clenching the ring in his hand, he sobs over her. “Why did you give up? Why didn’t you trust me that we could get through it? Why Coraleth?”

Gently, he touches her face, freezing the blood dripping from her scalp.

“Why?”

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.