Call of Descent

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Chapter Nineteen

By the time the two travelers had reached the cavern entrance, Deressy’s ship was long gone and the two of them were drenched from the waist down with spraying water. Penumbra was no happier with the situation than Reniko was. His legs had been exposed to the freezing water for over an hour with no relief and he made sure Reniko was aware of it.

“Stop complaining Penumbra. There is nothing I can do about it until we get to dry land. Until then you’ll just have to endure it. Besides, I didn’t ask you to come along. You volunteered all on your own.”

Humans are no fun to argue with, was all that Penumbra said in reply.

Reniko looked at Malik and shrugged.

“Well, we’ve arrived anyway. No use arguing about it anymore.”

Penumbra replied by running as fast as he could toward the entrance of the cave, all the way up into the mouth until he stood on dry ground. Malik was left behind, doused by the spray he had caused. Blaze trudged in not long afterward, waterlogged and displeased with the unicorn, which he promptly ignored.

“Your snobbery has caused even the horse to not like you, Pen,” Reniko said laughing. She jumped down from Penumbra and glanced around the low cavern they stood in.

“It goes steadily up from here. Doesn’t look like much light gets in here. I hope this cavern is not too long or we’ll be left in the dark,” she said, as she glanced into the engulfing darkness before them.

“Deressy supplied us with an oil lamp. It should last for a few days.”

“I have my torch as well, which should last us a few days. I just put fresh batteries in it before I went hiking that day so –” she stopped talking when she realized Malik had no idea what she was talking about. Instead she dug around in her backpack until she found her torch, long, black and sleek. Flipping the switch she turned it on, sending a steady beam of white light into the depths of the cavern.

“That’s amazing I’ve never seen fire that never flickers.”

“Well it’s not fire per se it’s actually made from a gas that lights up when heated. It uses electrical currents to function, which are supplied by the two fat round things that I insert into the back here.” Reniko tried to explain as she unscrewed the torch to show Malik the batteries inside. “They have a limited supply, so it will stop working just like your oil lamp will stop when all the oil is burnt.”

“I can’t say that made much sense to me, but I’ll take your word for it. It functions like my lamp?”

“In a sense yes, but water won’t harm it, neither will wind.”

“Well we won’t have to worry about either of those in the cave, so let’s save your… torch?” Reniko nodded, “as a last resort.”

“Fine with me,” Reniko said repacking her torch as Malik attempted to light his lamp.

As Malik struggled, Reniko examined the cavern walls more closely. Running her hand over the surface, she noticed the same unnatural quality she had seen in the structure at Savonly. “The walls are so strange. All the shale has been fused together, like something extremely hot made this tunnel. I’ve never seen anything like it, except at Savonly. Do you know what could do such a thing?” she asked turning to Malik who had finally gotten the lamp burning brightly.

Malik shook his head and came to stand beside Reniko. He ran his hand over the smooth surface, his expression just as puzzled as Reniko’s. “The walls at Savonly are like this as well?”

“You never noticed?”

“I have never stayed long enough there to really notice. I hope we don’t run into whatever made these caverns. I doubt the encounter would be too friendly.”

“I’m not sure it is a beast that made this. Maybe the Levanith created this. I mean if they could construct a way to travel from Vespen to Earth, digging through rock couldn’t be all that hard for them.”

“One more question to find the answer to, when we get to Reflaydun. Come on, I need to start moving. With no sun to dry us, we’ll have to hope enough movement will.”

“Right.” Reniko grabbed her bag off the cold stone ground and followed Malik into the depths of the cavern. Blaze followed closely behind leaving Penumbra in the rear. As the small caravan traveled further into the cavern, it became apparent to Reniko that this place was used as some kind of road. It too closely resembled the roads on Earth to be anything but. Malik took no notice of the surroundings, only glancing from side to side looking for any side routes. Reniko however was more interested in why there were no lights if this was in fact a tunnel that was used in travel. Fishing once more in her backpack for her torch, she flicked it on, startling Malik.

“What are you doing?” Malik asked.

“Well on Earth, we have tunnels similar to this. We use them to travel through in carriages. We always have some sort of illumination in the ones that are long enough that you cannot see the other end. I thought maybe this tunnel would have the same.”

Reniko aimed the beam of light near the roof of the tunnel that towered high above her. To her utter amazement she saw sconces bordering the wall, all connected to one another.

“See up there,” Reniko said pointing up. Malik looked up and nodded.

“Yes, but I don’t see how that will help us. They aren’t producing light now, and if the Levanith made them, they most likely have not been producing light for a thousand years.”

Reniko nodded. “Sorry, I was just satisfying my own curiosity.” She switched her light of and shoved it back into her pack. Satisfied, Malik continued on.

Sometime after their clothing had finally dried out and their feet could no longer go forward, Reniko had taken to riding Penumbra, caught up in the stories that Malik was weaving to stave off the eerie silence of the long dead road. She had her own to add, though she ended up explaining things more than telling the stories and soon gave up the effort, resorting to comments such as: “it is better if you see it, I can’t really explain it otherwise.” Malik would just laugh and they would move onto a less complicated topic. Malik had an unending amount of tales to tell about his travels with Orric, though she noticed he avoided the topic of his home.

“So how did you and Orric meet? I’ve heard of all you’ve done together but never that.”

Malik smiled. “I don’t know what Orric thought of me when we met. I was only ten at the time, impulsive and rash. I was supposed to be studying, but I had gotten bored with the endless lectures and had slipped away unnoticed, well not entirely unnoticed. I ended up wandering to the edge of the city, which is surrounded by tall graceful trees. I actually had never been outside the city limits. Most of the children of the city aren’t allowed to wander past the city gates, I was no exception to this, and was amazed by the trees. The ones in the city never grew as tall as the ones bordering it, long, thick and swaying in a constant breeze. Anyway, I wandered too far into the forest and got lost. I didn’t care at that time though as I was having fun pretending I was a royal knight of the castle defending some city maiden from the wiles of the Rük.

“Apparently my adventure took me into the Teoko’s birthing grounds. I stumbled into a large meadow and stopped suddenly when I felt the presence of something else. I was terrified enough to believe that Rük had invaded Tordaskar and I had stumbled into their secret camp. It was about that time that I also realized I had no idea how to get back to the city, and since the trees towered far overhead I couldn’t even glimpse it in the distance. The presence I felt was, as I had feared, not friendly. It was a female Teoko. She was giving birth and was in a rather hostile mood. When she saw me she, gave out a terrible cry, and when I saw her I did the same thing. I had always heard of the Teoko that lived near Tordaskar but had never seen them, and she was five horses high and nearly ten long. Her tail stood inches from where I stood and we both knew it. I made to run but her tail got me first. She wrapped it around me so tight I could barely breathe. I thought I was going to die right then and there, having never left Tordaskar. It was about that time that Orric stumbled into the clearing, hearing his mate cry out with such alarm he had gone to the birthing grounds in a rush. When he saw her holding me clutched in her spiny tale, a terrified ten year old, he laughed. I, on the other hand began to cry, for not only had I invoked the wrath of one Teoko, but also another had come and his laugh did not exactly sound like a laugh, it sounded like he was just as mad as the first Teoko.

“He spoke at some length with his mate who finally let me go, though not gently. I was so scared by this time I couldn’t move, I just sat on the ground crying, huddled into a little ball.

“Orric gently picked me up in his hand and began singing a very soothing draconic tune, which settled me down enough to look at him and stop crying. He told me that he wasn’t going to hurt me and that Variss was giving birth and I had startled her, Variss being the name of his mate. I was about to say something, I can’t remember what now, but Orric silenced me and pointed in the direction of Variss. There beside her lay a very small Teoko, about my ten year old size. Variss gave me a smile, apologized and took up her newborn son and came closer to Orric and me. Male Teoko have the privilege of naming their sons and females of naming their daughters. Since it was a son, Orric had to choose a name. He chose the name Lorri, which means… well it doesn’t matter. It was a great honour to me anyway. After the naming he set me on the ground and told me to go home before my parents worried. I told him I wasn’t leaving until he told me his name, which he did and he ushered me on. I got all embarrassed and said I didn’t know the way back home and he laughed. He flew me home, much to the surprise of my parents, and told me next time I wanted to visit I shouldn’t come unannounced and definitely not go to the birthing grounds when a female Teoko was giving birth. I went to visit him nearly every day after that. My parents didn’t mind, but I sure got a scolding when Orric left that first time.” Malik was smiling at the memory, it made Reniko happy for him to talk of his childhood with such fondness, it was the only time she had heard him speak well of his past in Tordaskar.

“I didn’t know Orric had a son, or a mate for that matter.”

“Well you didn’t get to say much to him at all. You weren’t so fluent in our language last time remember.”

“I remember,” Reniko said laughing. It was because she was so distracted by Malik’s story that she almost didn’t see it. A glimmer as something on the tunnel wall caught and reflected the light of Malik’s lamp. They had nearly passed by when the glittering caught her eye.

“Malik wait! Penumbra turn around a moment,” she said halting their progression.

“What is it?” Malik asked as he rode back to Reniko’s side. The light from his lamp illuminated the spot more clearly now and Reniko saw a small cut in the wall, the glittering coming from deep within. Dismounting she stepped closer to the crack feeling with her hand inside. It was a narrow slit that Reniko could barely fit her fingers inside. She felt around near where she had seen the shining object and was surprised when she felt the object depress under the weight of her outstretched fingers. With an unexpected suddenness, the wall began to slide away before her and she fell into it swallowed up in endless darkness. She heard Malik give out a cry, and when she dusted herself off and looked back to say she was all right, he was nowhere to be seen. The reason for the sudden plunge into darkness was now apparent as she realized the wall had closed up right behind her. Glad to still be wearing her backpack she took it off and set it on the ground. Once she had her torch free, she flicked it on. On this side of the wall, there were no seams, no switches, only endless smooth rock. She couldn’t even hear if Malik was still on the other side or not.

“Malik, can you hear me? I’m all right.” She sighed as she realized that, in this strange tomb she had encased herself in, she could barely hear her own voice. Best start looking for another way out. How could I have been so stupid to stick my hand inside a hole not knowing what the outcome could be? She turned around letting the light show her the surrounding area. It was a small room, no bigger than a storage shed. The room’s contents however did not look like something Reniko had ever seen on Vespen, instead it resembled a room one might find on Earth. A large screen stood at the opposite end with a vast array of controls. Reniko moved away from the seamless door and examined the dusty switchboard.

It was some sort of computer terminal, she had no doubt of that, but unlike the bulky switch ridden things that inhabited Earth, the top seemed uniform, the only change in surface being the colour or a slight inscription in a language she could not read. She slid her hand over the surface hoping for any kind of reaction, however she received none.

“Well this is hopeless,” she muttered annoyed that she was stuck in a room unable to get herself out. “Why on Earth doesn’t Malik just push the switch and get me out of here?” Until he figures out to do that I might as well try to get this damn thing working. She worked her hands over the lifeless board in front of her once again, tapping symbols here and there, none of which would work. An idea struck her and she timidly spoke commands.

“On. Computer on. Start.” She tried the commands in English, Vespen, French and Latin none of them worked. “Oh hell it’s probably in Levanith, which I don’t know at all. You think they would have made this a lot simpler.”

Reniko can you hear me. Startled by the sudden break in the silence she stopped moving.

“I can hear you but I don’t think you can hear me, Pen,” Reniko shouted knowing her voice was not reaching her friends on the other side of the door.

Reniko whatever you touched isn’t working any longer. We can’t get in.

Reniko slumped her head on the console in front of her. “Why?” She was trapped in here. She was going to die in here, and the means of her redemption was staring straight at her if only she could read what it said. She lifted her head again and set aside her hopeless thoughts.

“Okay so not a one word command. How about, initiate start up sequence,” she nearly fell to her knees with joy when the console before her began to light up. Well at least it wasn’t a total waste to watch all those science fiction movies.

The screen jumped to life, running a series of diagnostics all in Levanith. She waited until movement on the screen stopped and all that was left was various spheres hovering all with different lines of text within them.

“Let’s hope verbal still works,” she mumbled as she looked at the screen, “switch all text to Latin.” Instantly the computer terminal complied making not only the commands on the screen readable but the ones on the console as well. There wasn’t much in the computer, it was purely for maintenance of the tunnel and nothing else so it didn’t take Reniko long to find the key that worked the door and she immediately set about opening it. With relief, the door silently opened admitting a rather frantic Malik into the small room.

“Reniko, thank the goddess you’re all right.” He stopped suddenly as he saw the computer terminal before him. “What in blazes is that?”

I told Malik not to panic, but I’m only a unicorn, which apparently doesn’t mean much to him. Penumbra said standing just outside the room. Levanith I presume?

Reniko nodded. “I think I can manoeuvre my way through this. It seems to at least have a language I can read, and we have something similar to this back on Earth.” She could barely believe she was saying that as the console before her was a technological marvel, even more amazing that it was over a thousand years old. If this is anything like what we’ll find at Reflaydun, getting home may be easier than I thought. Navigating her way through a series of menus she realized that the information on the console was sorely lacking.

“What are we still doing here? Let’s move on,” Malik said pulling at Reniko’s arm.

“Hold on a second. This console may not be good for much, but I think I can get the lights out there working again, which would be a big improvement over using that tiny lamp of yours.” As she spoke, she found the right commands and suddenly the room was a blaze with light.

“Amazing,” Malik said breathlessly as he made his way back into the tunnel, light filtering from the sconces on both walls. Reniko joined him and glanced down the tunnel.

“It must have shut itself down after being idle so long. I figured that the console must still have power if that switch was still working the door. I wonder what the power supply is, for it to still be working after a thousand years,” she said, as she retrieved her torch and backpack from the room.

“Well it’s not running in perfect condition, but well enough. I hope Reflaydun is able to do as much,” Malik said pointing to a section not far ahead where the lights were shattered and the pathway dark.

“We’ll know when we get there,” Reniko said getting back onto Penumbra. “In the meantime, make sure I don’t do anything like that again. I thought I was going to be stuck in that tiny room for the rest of my life.”

“I’ll make sure you don’t do anything that impulsive again. I’d rather not be left to worry like that.”

Reniko was taken aback. “You were worried about me?”

“Well of course, I mean how was I supposed to know that you can work Levanith machines?”

Reniko was unsure of what to say to that. She was happy that Malik cared for her, but in a way annoyed that he thought she couldn’t take care of herself.

“I’m full of surprises,” she said as a response concealing her mixed emotion.

They slept that night in a section of the tunnel that was inhabited by darkness. Clearing away the broken shards from the light sconce that littered the ground, they made their beds on the hard cold surface and suffered silently with no fire.

Reniko awoke the next morning sore and uneasy. She had had dreams. Dreams of things she wasn’t even sure of, products of a mind experiencing too many new things in such a short period of time. This day she awoke before Malik. Penumbra, however, reacted to her movement instantly.

Something wrong? He asked.

“Just can’t sleep anymore. My dreams are haunting me.”

Care to talk them away?

“I don’t really remember anything that happens in them, just sounds and feelings. Terror, dread and screaming,” she stopped her recounting, suddenly remembering a dream from a long time ago, a dream she had had right before she had come to Vespen, the people in that dream, screaming and crying in agony. It wasn’t so different from what she was feeling now.

Your dreams will pass eventually. They can’t hurt you.

“No, but they can keep me from sleeping. Come on Pen, let’s wake up Malik and get on our way.”

The party was moving through the illuminated tunnel again after a short breakfast. All of them had found it not terribly satisfying, but with no other options left open to them they forgot it and moved on. Malik remained silent, sleep still clinging to him. From his movements, Reniko gathered he was as sore as she was from the hard cold ground.

As they moved closer to their destination, Reniko felt a steady decrease in temperature. For all the clothing she wore, the cold still began to seep into her bones, making her shiver involuntarily. Malik began to feel the same, and the party stopped as the two of them clothed themselves more properly. When Reniko opened the bundle that she had packed away so long ago in Rownie, it revealed a mass of fabric all in silvers and blues. From the weight of the fabrics she could tell that they would hold her warmth. Hiding behind Penumbra she stripped off her old clothing, her flesh forming goose pimples with the frigid wintry air. Her array of clothing was elaborate and it took Penumbra’s help for her to figure out which piece went on first. She donned the cotton white chemise first then slipped into a long-sleeved tunic that reached to her knees which was silver in colour with thread work of dark blue twining its way around the edges. Her breeches were of the same blue as the thread, thick and comfortable for the chilly air. Over this a long sleeveless surcoat was adorned again in the rich blue. The threading was the same as the tunic but silver in contrast. As she slipped back on her hiking boots, Malik came over and tossed her a pair of fur lined leather boots.

“These will keep your feet warmer than those other boots,” he mumbled.

Reniko looked at him gratefully, only to be met with a stark change in his dress. Instead of the earthy tones he had been garbed in for so long he was clothed in deep blacks outlined with the same silver thread that was stitched so finely into her surcoat. Instead of the tunic he had been wearing he now donned a long sleeved doublet, which was made of rich black leather, bulky from all the clothing it hid underneath. His cloak blended well, the deep midnight blue being the only colour on his person.

“Thanks,” she said slipping on the boots, and taking another look at Malik, he looked almost princely in his new garb.

As she stood, Malik gave her an approving look. “You look almost fit for court, my lady.” Reniko glanced at the clothing she was wearing; he was right. With the new clothing draped on her frame she looked more like the women of Vespen than the men.

“Is this practical?” she asked as she clasped her cloak around her neck and remounted Penumbra.

“More practical for a woman than what you were wearing before,” he said as he climbed on top of Blaze.

Reniko conceded. With this new look, she would fit in more with Vespen culture, not that it really mattered where they were headed. She was, however, pleased with the lay of the clothing. Riding was as comfortable as before, maybe even more so.

As they rounded the next bend in the tunnel, they were faced with natural light instead of the dull glow of the sconces. They had found the exit as well as the source of the chilling air. As they came to the exit, they were confronted by a blizzard, snow swirling in chaos as the wind churned it one way and then another.

“Well I wasn’t sure if the stories were true, but seems they are,” Malik yelled over the steady roar of the wind.

“What stories?”

“That this area sees nothing but winter all year round. Some people say it had been cursed by the Rük. Others say it’s being protected from them.”

“This blizzard, should we wait it out?”

“We’ll be waiting a long time. No Teoko dares fly up here, and no traveler has ever made it back from here. I should have told you this before, but I was sure they were just stories. This storm, it never dies.”

“How can a storm never cease? That’s impossible.”

“You can ask whatever we find at the centre of the storm, if we get there. I’m not sure how to navigate. The sky is not visible and there aren’t roads or landmarks out here.”

“We’ll be fine Malik, I have a compass.”

“A what?” he asked.

“You don’t have compasses on Vespen?” she asked pulling nearer to Malik and revealing the compass she concealed in her numb hand.

“Better put on your gloves,” Malik responded.

Irritated, but grateful of the reminder, she dug in the saddlebag and pulled out the gloves she had stored there. After she had slipped them on she again produced the compass.

“How does it work?” he asked taking the small item in his hand.

“It always points north. See that needle, it’s attracted to the magnetic field of the planet. It will always point directly along the magnetic field, so, as long as you know north and you have a map, you can guide yourself anywhere. Even with the sky covered and a storm raging, we’ll know exactly where to go.”

“I’ll take your word on it. I think maybe you should navigate.”

“Malik, how were you planning on getting through this storm if I hadn’t produced my compass?”

Malik looked at her and smiled. “I have faith in the goddess, and she would never abandon her faithful servants.”

“I thought you didn’t believe, anymore.”

“I don’t believe the Rük are a punishment, but the goddess is real. Everyone on Vespen knows that the goddess Shyla keeps her children safe. It’s the only reason I haven’t been killed by the Rük yet. Five years I’ve been away from Tordaskar. If she was not watching over me, I wouldn’t have survived, none of her children would.”

It unnerved her. She didn’t have the faith that Malik did in this goddess. It was a faith that she could never have. She grew up on Earth, with different beliefs and different cultures, none of which mentioned anything about Vespen, let alone their religious structure. It terrified her to think that Malik would do things so blindly on faith. Rational thought had not been involved at all, just faith, and she could not do that. She suddenly felt uncomfortable in Malik’s presence. She was at a loss for words. Nothing she said would do any good, so she remained silent, not voicing her uneasy thoughts.

“Well, should we spend the night here?” Malik finally spoke feeling Reniko’s unease.

“It really would be a waste of a day for us to stay here until tomorrow,” Reniko said. She didn’t feel like lingering in this tunnel. She could feel her way home so close, and she didn’t want to prolong its coming. “It’s not even midday. I think it would be best if we just get this horrible storm behind us.”

“Rather anxious are we?” a deep voice rumbled overhead. Startled Penumbra backed farther into the tunnel as a midnight blue head popped over the ridge.

“Orric! I didn’t think you were ever going to make it. I gather Rimca found you?” Malik said as Orric landed with an icy shower on the slop outside the tunnel.

“I found her. What did you do to her Malik? I’ve never seen her so unruffled. Or was it you that got her so riled, Lyss?” Orric said, his deep bass voice washing over Reniko like a warm blanket. She had forgotten the soothing quality he had over her.

“It probably was me, though I don’t know why. She did something odd to me one evening and the next morning she left.” Flummoxed, Reniko glared at Orric. “Did you just call me Lyss?”

Orric gave a grin that matched the one that was spreading across Malik’s face as well.

“I don’t suppose it will help if I ask. I have a feeling you two are not going to tell me what that means.”

“What’s this you were saying about Rimca doing something to you before she left?” Malik asked.

Reniko recalled the night, shivered and shook her head. “I’d rather not talk about it.” It was the only time she had felt her body was out of her control, it was not something she liked to remember.

Malik looked at Orric and the two exchanged private looks.

“Her voice, it holds a power. She’s very gifted. It is something that the Le’a’to are born with. Did she say what she saw?” Orric asked.

“No,” Reniko said turning aside. “Please let’s just go.”

“There is no weakness in truthfulness,” Orric prodded.

Reniko looked into Orric’s kind and gentle eyes. Such compassion was a strange thing to note in such a creature’s eyes. She was glad he was here.

So this is Orric. You know I do believe we have met before, Penumbra said as he gazed unafraid at Orric’s large bulk. He was blocking most of the light from the cave entrance as well as the icy air. Orric seemed to have sensed the exchange and gazed knowingly at Penumbra.

“A unicorn is quite an unusual steed,” Orric said.

I owe a debt, Penumbra said, his conversation no longer private.

“You must have done something great to have won the friendship of a unicorn. I saw that about you the first day we met, Lyss.” Reniko flinched at the word. It annoyed her to have them call her something that she was not privy to.

Don’t let it bother you so. Instead feel honored that they call you something so affectionately. It’s a sign that you belong, Reniko, not a sign that they dislike you. Reniko patted Penumbra reassuringly in response.

“It’s nice to have a reunion and all, but I think we better start moving before all daylight is lost,” Reniko said before more conversation was started. “It’s not like we can’t talk on the way.”

“Lead the way,” Malik said gesturing for Orric to stand out of the way.

“Careful now, the first step is straight down,” Orric said. He moved himself out of the way letting the frigid air once again blast into the tunnel.

“Come on Pen, mind what Orric said.” Penumbra moved out into the icy air, the snow blowing in front of them like a white sheet. The drop was dramatic. Whatever road had extended from the tunnel had broken apart ages ago, leaving nothing but the shale cliff side to contend with. Covered with snow, it was even more treacherous. Penumbra and Blaze ended up sliding down most of the way. When the ground finally levelled out, Reniko had had enough of the blowing snow. When she looked over at Malik to read his reaction to the weather, she noticed he had lifted the hood on his cloak to help avert the snow. She followed suit and was relieved with the amount of cold that the hood staved off. Taking out her compass, she plotted their course through the white out.

“Be careful Penumbra, I don’t want you stepping into something that we can’t get out of, or worse,” Reniko spoke.

Orric and Malik conversed for the first few hours of the journey, catching up on everything that the other had missed, Reniko felt quite left out. Penumbra noticed this right away.

We’re an interesting group aren’t we? A unicorn, a human, a Teoko and a Terran. Friends like ours are what the Rük try to rid the world of. I’m glad you’re here Reniko. Without you, I would be back in Sortaia with my herd feeling sorry for myself.

“I’m glad too. To have known everyone, but –” she stopped, her sentence trailing off into the swirling snow.

But you wish to go home.

Reniko nodded. “Almost there. I can feel it.”

Orric ventured closer to Reniko leaving Malik trailing close behind. His presence blocked a lot of the blowing snow, which was a nice relief for both Reniko and Penumbra.

“I am glad that you have acquainted yourself with our tongue. Hopefully I don’t look as frightening as the last time we met,” he spoke, his voice not hindered by the wind.

“I never thought that such a thing as you existed. It startled me.”

“You thought I was going to eat you.”

Reniko laughed. “Well if you ever see something bigger than yourself that you’ve never seen before, I’d like to see how you would react. Besides, I have a good excuse.”

“Is that so?”

“Back on Earth, there are stories about your kind, lots of them, none of them pleasant. They always made dragons, I mean Teoko, out to be fierce creatures that breathe fire. Knights would come from faraway lands to help rid the lands of the Teoko that ravaged nearby villages. I know the truth now though.”

“Sad how muddled things can get. Teoko, like humans all have different personalities, I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point in time one of my kind had acted in such a manner. If we so pleased we could have overpowered the Levanith, or the humans and taken control of Vespen. There had never been a need, and now that there is we can’t easily overcome our foe.”

“The Rük hold that much power over you?”

“Our numbers are few and Rük have ways that make hunting those of us that are left easy. That toxin the females have, it may have a temporary effect on you, but for us, it’s fatal. Wouldn’t expect such a thing from such a large creature, but we are nonetheless built very different from you humans. Your strengths are our weaknesses. It’s why we can come together so well.”

“We complete each other?”

Orric nodded. “Malik told me of your encounter with that Rük assassin.”

“Kruok,” Reniko added the Rük’s name. She had a strange connection with that Rük now. Somehow she felt that she deserved some sort of respect.

“Kruok," he repeated and continued, "Your wounds, are they withstanding the cold well enough?”

“They are healing well. No infection, no bleeding. I barely feel them at all anymore. Rimca is a skilled healer. Enough of me, I’m curious to know of your dealings. What happened after you and Malik got separated, after you left me at Savonly. I’m sorry, by the way, for putting you in so much danger.”

“No more than being a Teoko causes. My affairs were grievous. On the other side of Radalean Lake there is a range of mountains called the A’barra. Hidden there is the last pocket of Teoko on Edonal Eclith. The Rük found their lairs at Mountain Side. When Malik and I split up, I ran into one of my kin, she told me of their trouble. I went to help them, but we were too late. The rest of her tribe had been slain. She wanted revenge and I went with her. We hunted the Rük. We left no survivors.” Orric’s eyes were ablaze with hatred and deep sorrow.

Reniko felt tears on her face hot in the bitter cold. She had never before felt such sorrow. She could see it all happening. The invasion of their lair, the Teoko scattering to defend the young, most falling to the ground by a single poisoned dart. A slaughter of kin. She wept for them, wept for those who survived as well, for the pain Orric and the female felt. Orric glanced at her, uneasy by the silence he had caused. When he noticed her pain, he told Penumbra to stop. Malik came beside them, worried. With a gesture from Orric he remained silent.

“Lyss, please do not weep for things you cannot change. I wish with all my heart that I could take back the knowledge I have given you.”

Tears still falling, she lifted her head to face Orric. “I’m glad that you have given it to me. If I cannot change it, I can at least remember the injustice of it and try to make sure it never happens again. No one should have that power. No one.” She broke into sobbing again, overwhelmed by powerlessness.

Malik looked to Orric. Orric stood by and sighed. “I did not know she would take it this way. It’s like she feels my pain.”

“She very well might. Let’s make camp for the night.”

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