“How are we supposed to get in there?” Lina asked Nypre, eyeing the large egg-like structure up and down.
“Well, they can’t see us because of your prayers. So we should hopefully be able to walk in, find Deren and Norris, and walk back out without being seen,” Nypre suggested. He had a feeling something like that would be much easier to say than to do.
“I really don’t want to go in there,” Lina admitted. She ducked behind Nypre to get it out of her sight.
“It’s for Deren and Norris. Come on,” Nypre said with a stern voice. He started walking forward, knowing that the longer they talked about it, the longer it would take for them to find the courage to do it. Lina followed slowly behind, clutching Deren’s sword as if it were the only thing keeping her alive. Nypre held his sword ready as well. He tried act courageous for Lina’s sake.
It was difficult to get inside the egg with all of the people lined up, waiting to enter. The entrance was curved like an arch, the opening only large enough for one person to enter at a time. Nypre and Lina had to squeeze in trying to avoid touching anyone for fear that it might break the prayer Lina said before. Through good timing and maneuvering they were able to enter without being found out.
The inside of the structure was illuminated with a disturbing grey light. The source of the light was above them, crisscrossing the entire egg. It was a massive web, the crystalline silk glimmered mystically. Many people were cocooned in the web. Spiders were continuing to add more to the collection. They fell from above, grasping the mindless people and carried them up to the top. The people were offering no resistance at all, seemingly entranced.
“Nypre, look,” Lina whispered, pointing at one section of the web. Norris and Deren were there, wrapped up side by side. Their eyes were open as they stared off into the distance, seeing nothing. Norris was still in his armor, and even held his spear which was wrapped tightly against him.
“We need to get them down from there,” Nypre told her.
“But how?” she asked. In the eerie light, Nypre could see the fear on her face clearly for the first time since entering the Night Land. He knew she could see his fear too, and her concern about his injuries was beginning to show as well.
“Look, Norris still has his spear. If you can use your prayers to awaken them, then maybe he can use his spear to cut himself and Deren out of the web,” Nypre suggested.
“What about all the other people?” Lina asked as she surveyed the web.
“We can’t possibly save them all,” Nypre said, assessing the ranks of dangling bodies.
“It’s wrong for us to choose who lives and who dies,” Lina replied softly.
“Just try not to think of the big picture here. Deren is my brother, and Norris is our friend. We have to save them.” Nypre said to her as if it were simple. Nypre looked again at all the people entrapped there. There were children, little boys and girls who hadn’t really had a chance at any life at all. He thought it would make him feel guilty, but it didn’t. He just wished that he had more power. If he was as powerful as his mother, he could save everyone.
“That’s a cruel thing to say,” Lina replied scornfully. She felt she had no choice, even if she understood what Nypre was saying. This was just wrong. It was a choice no one should have to make. She put her hands together and started praying, praying to free Norris and Deren from the nightmare that held them.
While Lina prayed, Nypre examined the people entering the egg, watching the spiders carry them up to the web. It made him want to run away screaming, and he knew if he ever did get out of the Night Land he’d relive this scene in nightmares for the rest of his life.
Lina prayed for what seemed like hours, her prayers becoming more and more intense as she went on, begging for Ana to free them. Finally, Norris and Deren began to show signs of life, their eyes beginning to focus on their surroundings, instead of staring sightlessly into the distance. They looked around, then at each other. Neither uttered a single word. The look of horror on Deren’s face scared Nypre more than anything they could have said. They both became aware of Nypre and Lina, and Nypre signaled them to remain quiet.
“Lina, you have to pray for them to be unseen too, they’re awake,” he quickly told Lina. Lina adjusted her prayer, but couldn’t help but feel that she was asking a lot of Ana this day. She continued to pray, but neither of them was sure if it was working or not.
“Norris, try cutting the web with your spear,” Nypre whispered loudly, trying to speak loudly enough for him to hear, He knew that the spiders could neither see nor hear them, but wasn’t confident enough in that belief to talk in anything more than a whisper. All at once, every spider in the egg stopped moving. It was only for a moment, but Nypre felt like they might have heard him. Nypre and Lina stood completely still until the spiders began moving once more. Norris struggled, extracting one arm and hand from the web, grabbing the spear with it. It was difficult, especially wearing armor, but he was able to slowly cut the web with his spear, and break himself free. With a loud clunk he fell to the ground.
At the sound, the spiders started screeching loudly. They skittered around the web and walls quickly. The ones that were carrying people dropped them to the ground. Spiders began moving across the floor, searching all around. Nypre, Lina, and Norris stayed away from them as best they could. They still had to free Deren.
“How are we supposed to get Deren down?” Lina asked in a barely audible whisper. Nypre took his sword and held it back, ready to throw it.
“Wonik-e,” he whispered tossing the sword using the wind to manipulate its movement. It was clumsy but he managed to cut the strand of web that held his brother. Deren fell to the ground. Unfortunately he landed right on top one of the spiders. The spider screeched in surprise and moved quickly away, depositing Deren in a heap on the ground. The prayer broken, the spiders seemed able to see them.
“Give Deren his sword,” Nypre ordered Lina. “Wonik-e” His sword slid back to him across the floor. Lina tossed the sword to Deren just before being pinned under a spider. Norris thrust his spear down on the spider’s hard carapace. With a loud clang followed by a snap, his spear pierced right through the shell and into the spider, its’ tip stopping just before emerging from the underside. He lifted the skewered spider off of her and with a kick it slid from his spear.
Nypre and Deren fought the spiders the best they could with their swords. They weren’t able to break through the carapaces, but they could successfully stab the spiders’ undersides when they lunged forward at them. They had to move quick before being overrun.
“Let’s go!” Nypre swayed and fought his way to the opening where they had entered the egg. One of the people standing in the line jumped on his back, knocking him to the ground, causing him to lose his grip on his sword. It was an elderly woman who was very weak, and Nypre easily pushed her off of him, casting using a quick wind spell to return his sword to him just in time to stab a spider which was attacking at him. With the elderly woman on the ground the path to the exit was clear. The four of them ran outside quickly, where they encountered the humanoid creature they had seen earlier. He and Nypre raised their hands at the same time.
“Wonik-e,” both the creature and Nypre shouted together. Bolts of lightning formed in each of their hands and struck forward, crashing into each other. With a loud explosion the bolts met, creating for just a moment a ball of lightning that discharged in every direction before dissipating. Nypre, Lina, Norris, Deren, and the creature were all knocked backward by the force of the energies.
“Lina, hide us!” Nypre quickly shouted, looking up from the ground. Lina laid there, her hands fervently clutching each other, already praying for Ana to shield them once again. She prayed faster this time. The creature was the first to recover. It looked around bewildered, unable to see them once again. The spiders from the inside of the egg began boiling out of the exit, swarming in every direction looking for them.
“Let’s move,” Nypre said, just loud enough for the others to hear. The four of them began running. They didn’t know where they were running to, but they definitely knew what they were running from. Finally, once they had distanced themselves from the searching spiders, they stopped to catch their breath.
“Lina, you saved us,” Deren all but hugged her.
“It wasn’t just Lina. Thank you too, Nypre Thank you both for coming to find us,” Norris said gratefully.
“I don’t know what happened. It was like I was dreaming still, lost within a nightmare that would never end. When I awoke, I wasn’t afraid. Well, for only a moment I wasn’t afraid, until I saw where I was,” Deren admitted in a less serious voice.
“That’s all I remember too,” Norris grunted.
“I’m just glad you two are all right.” Lina wanted so much to hug Norris, but she stopped herself.
“Now we just have to get out of here,” Nypre sighed, looking around. Endless fields of grass as far as the eye could see, which wasn’t very far in the darkness.
“I’ll lead the way. We’re back in our homeland. I can get us home from here,” Deren confidently told Nypre.
Nypre didn’t know how Deren knew the landscape so well. Everything looked so different in the dark to him, yet Deren insisted that both he and Nypre had been here before. It worried Nypre. He knew he was bad with directions, but not being able to recognize his own homeland troubled him. He convinced himself it was just due to the darkness. The one thing he did recognize was the steep hill Deren led them up.
“Um, this isn’t right,” Deren shouted to the others, he was the first to reach the top of the hill. Norris was being overly cautious with Lina. He was helping her up the hill despite her claims that she was fine. Nypre offered his assistance too, but ended up just walking alongside them. Upon hearing Deren’s words, he ran to the top of the hill.
He gasped and took a step back when he saw what was left of their home. Planks of wood lay broken on the ground where the foundation of their house used to be. It looked as if the house itself had erupted.
“What happened here?” he asked, falling to the ground inspecting the remains.
“I don’t know.” Deren’s voice was full of sadness.
“Our home is gone. There’s not even a fraction of what stood here before, it’s all gone.” Nypre punched the ground angrily.
“This is your home?” Norris asked.
“No,” Deren shook his head. “We used to live in a small house on a hill, in a beautiful sunny field. Now all that remains is this night. Even if our house still stood, it would not be our home anymore.”
“This couldn’t have happened. Mom would have defended this with her life!” Nypre shouted at Deren. There was a long silence.
“With her life,” Deren repeated. “You don’t think she’s dead?”
“I know she’s not. It’s not the worst thing I’ve heard about her lately though,” Nypre admitted. “Come on, let’s check the town.”
“Are you two okay?” Lina asked with a soft tone.
“We’ll be fine,” Nypre quickly said before Deren could respond. All of them hesitated for a moment, but then continued heading south to the town.
It took much longer to reach the town by foot than by air. Nypre and Deren had never actually walked to town before. Wonik had always flown them with her magic. When they did reach the town, they saw that, much like their house, the town was in ruins. What had once been a nice, peaceful village was now a large singed crater. Nypre’s senses were overwhelmed at the sight, and by what he felt on the wind. Little charges of electricity still remained sparking in the air. A very powerful spell had been cast here, powerful enough to destroy the entire town. Nypre knew only Wonik was capable of that.
“This isn’t natural,” Lina’s voice fell back to a whisper.
“This is mom’s doing,” Nypre admitted. “I don’t know why. The people in this town loved her, and she protected them for years.” Nypre struggled to hold back the tears that were forming in his eyes. He recalled the other boys who had trained with him and Deren, and the sword master who had instructed them. He remembered the kids who had watched in awe as he showed off his magic. Were they all truly dead at his mother’s hands?
“I know why,” Deren said suddenly. “It’s obvious, when you think about it. Whatever dark force has been messing with our minds has been messing with hers. She doesn’t have Lina to help her. It wasn’t her. It was the dark force that has been haunting us. The Night Land. It has just been using her and her powers.”
“Mom,” Nypre was horrified. What Deren said made sense, but it was still his mother who had killed the townsfolk, her friends. Did she know what she had done? “We have to save her.”
“How are we supposed to do that?” Norris asked. “I understand your resolve, but we are barely surviving ourselves.”
“Can’t Lina break her free like she broke us free?” Nypre looked to Lina. “You have to do it! Please!”
“I can try.” Lina was shocked at Nypre’s tone. She closed her eyes, praying once more to Ana. “Ana, please free Wonik from what controls her. Please break her free with your light and guide her to me.” There was a long silence as the four waited there.
“Did it work?” Nypre asked.
“I don’t know,” Lina stuttered. “I’m sorry. I will pray for her every night. I promise.”
“Why won’t Ana free her?” Nypre yelled at Lina. “Is it because she’s a guardian? She’s still human!” Lina took a step back, hiding behind Norris.
“Nypre, stop it.” Deren jumped in front of him, stepping between him and the others “I’m worried too, as much as you are. We have to control ourselves. We need to get out of here.” Deren was right.
“You’re right, I’m sorry. I just don’t know what to do. It wasn’t supposed to be this way,” Nypre sighed. Lina walked toward him from behind Norris. She placed her hand on his shoulder.
“Nypre, we’re going to get through this. We just need help.” Lina comforted him.
“Any ideas?” Norris asked to Deren.
“I don’t know. Maybe we can get help from an allied territory? I know Tawarln’s greatest ally is Aqnis.” Deren suggested.
“How do we get to Aqnis?” Lina looked to him.
“We can’t,” Nypre stated. “The only way to Aqnis is by sea, unless you want to risk our lives in the forest. There are docks to the far south of this territory, but it’s a very long trip. The Tawarln Territory is very large.”
“We have to try,” Norris ordered. “Come on, we have to keep heading south.” The other three just stood there. “Head south now, standing around here solves nothing,” He raised his voice, snapping the other three out of their depression.
The four of them traveled for what seemed like days. No matter how tired they got, no matter how exhausted they felt, Norris insisted that they continue traveling. They came across other destroyed towns, each of them seemingly destroyed in the same way. Norris scavenged food for them, careful not to let Lina or the boys see the remains of the people who had been caught within the devastating magic.
Tawarln’s territory was easy to traverse. The entire territory was one large plain with only a few hills. They walked until each step felt like their last. They struggled, helping push each other forward when needed. Even Norris was exhausted by the time they saw light ahead.
“Light,” Nypre coughed. It was hard to talk. There was a large lump in his throat, but nothing to drink to clear it. Rejuvenated by the sight of the light, and the thought of finally being able to exit the Night Land, they pushed forward. Once in the sunlight, Nypre fell forward, unable to walk any further. Lina dropped to his side.
“We have to keep going, it could still expand,” she insisted, pushing him. She tried to get back up, but instead she laid back, her eyes drifting shut.
“Norris, look. We have to help them,” Deren groaned before joining them on the ground. Norris stood strong. He held his spear facing the night. If they needed to rest, he would protect them.
“Look, there are people! Ready your blades!” a voice called out from behind him. He turned and saw several men on horseback. They wielded swords and wore the leathers common in this land. The men charged forward, ready to attack.
“Wait!” Norris called out, coughing from weakness. “Please help us,” he said before falling to the ground. The will that had kept them going in the darkness seemed to have faded upon reaching the light of the sun. He too tried and failed to remain awake, falling into a deep sleep.
“It’s likely a trap. There have been reports of this type of thing happening all across the border. Nobody emerges from the Night Land,” the lead horseman explained to his followers. “Ready your blades, we have to kill them,”
“Wait,” one of the horsemen countered. “Those are the sons of Wonik. We can’t kill them.”
“Wonik’s sons? Then it is definitely a trap. Wonik betrayed us.” The lead horseman was unconvinced.
“They were not with her when she did. They were traveling to Lumin. You have to believe me. Besides, if it were a trap, they would have attacked us. We should take them back to camp. Disarm them if you must, keep them under lock and key, but I know for a fact that they have their own minds.”
“Fine. It’s clear you’re not going to shut up if we don’t. What’s your name again? I need to know who to blame if this all goes wrong in my report to Tawarln,” the lead horseman grunted.
“Ryan,” the other horseman told him with a cheerful smile.