“Father!” Keira screamed as she ran out towards him. Her hands pressed against the sides of his warm, moist face. Her eyes searching for some sign of life, in his blank black stare. Oh god, what happened to you? Father?!” she yelled in despair. “What happened out there?!” But there were no words to follow, her father couldn't respond to her questions other than a faint gurgle of noises heard from the mouth of the man's lifeless expression. Keira looked over the man, examining him for some sort of sign to answer her questions. Smoke, and soot covered his clothes, while sweat dripped down from his forehead to his lips, no doubt from the length of their travels. Quickly, Thomas and Maedoc rushed to the man's aid, hoisting him off from the horses back as they neared the entrance of Maedoc’s cottage. Rozlend dragging Phillip's half alert body in through the small opening of the door.
“Quickly, get them some beds prepared, and bring them some water!” Thomas shouted as he dragged the limp body of the man over the threshold, Maedoc quickly following behind him as his tiny frame carried the man's feet above his shoulder without struggle, and Rozlend and Phillip followed tailing in from behind.
“It's gone... It's all gone.” Phillip muttered in amazement as he limped his way in through the door of the tiny cottage, arm still wrapped around Rozlend's shoulder.
“What? What's all gone? What is he going on about Rozlend?” questioned Thomas.
“I don't know, he's been muttering that since I found him coming down the road.” Rozlend replied, plopping Phillip upon a freshly made cot.
“My family.” Keira whispered to herself. “Phillip where is my family?” urgency rang in her voice, and she could feel as her body became quickly overwhelmed with anxiety.
Rozlend sat the exhausted man up, his hand placed firmly against the mid of Phillip’s back, supporting him as he sipped from a the glass of water Keira handed him, still struggling to speak the words he wished to say.
“I don't know...” he paused, swallowing another cool sip of water down his dry, parched throat. “I don't know what happened to them, they weren't there when I return... they weren’t there when I found him.”
“What do you mean when you found him?”
“The city... the whole city of Durnshire up in flames... it's... it's all burned down to a crisp! Everything... everyone in it... destroyed... so many colors Thomas, so many colorful flames. The place was engulfed, the building... your home Keira.” He paused as his gaze turned towards her. “It was collapsing in all around us, just as I managed to get your father out... we had almost no time to get out at all.”
“Where is my family though Phillip? Do you know where they are?!” Keira demanded.
“I don't know!” he shouted, his head pointed towards the ground in thought, his hands squeezing tightly at the edge of the cot. “I don’t know... they weren’t there when I arrived, only your father... all I can tell you is that they probably weren't there at the time of the attack. I’m sorry.”
“We have to go back.” Keira interjected, a hard glare nearly piercing through Thomas as she spoke. “We have to go back! They could still be out there!”
“Colors.” Thomas spoke softly in thought; his words framed into more of a statement then a question.
“Sylph.” Rozlend confirmed.
“I don't know where they are Keira; I don't...” the man stopped to take a breath, sipping more water from his glass. “I don't know where your family is, I tried... I tried to find them, but there was no sign... no time left before the building collapsed completely, I was...” another hard swallow as he struggled to get his words out.
“Afraid... that if we stayed any longer we'd be trapped, or caught by whatever was out there. Neither one of us would have made it back, nor would I have been able to warn you- your faa... your father!” Phillip spoke abruptly, as if suddenly remembering something. “He's injured! There... on his chest, you have to help him, the wound is deep, I tried to bandage it but I’m not sure if it was enough!” he spoke loudly pointing to the man lying quietly in the cot beside him.
Quickly Keira rushed towards him, kneeling down at her father's side. Her face bone white as she nervously studied the area in which her father's arms clutched upon. Slowly she reached out to pull his arms away from his chest. The man winced in pain. There lying beneath his left arm lay a puddle of red sipping through the fabric of a tightly wound bandage and stained clothing.
“Father!” she cried out in shock, her hands held tightly against his chest as she attempted to keep pressure against the ever flowing wound. “He's hurt bad! It's bleeding all over! Somebody help him! Somebody do something!” The man, moaned and twisted in discomfort. His face a grimace and turning paler by the minute.
“Stand aside!” Interuppted Maedoc, who carried with him a case of various colored bottles. “Let me through, let me through!” He motioned with his hands for them to move as he rushed to the man's aid. Quickly he observed the large gash in the man's side. “The wound needs to be treated immediately.” he muttered.
“Quickly! Thomas take her outside, I need to work!” Thomas, motioned for Rozlend to follow, and the two men rushed outside, as Keira followed closely behind. Her eyes still glued upon her father's agonizing expression. He was only slightly coherent, the man's face contorted with pain and discomfort as Maedoc attempted to treat his wounds.
Outside Thomas and Rozlend stood motionless, their voices low with concern as Keira rushed outside to join them.
“We have to go back there!” she shouted bursting through the front door of the tiny cottage. “We have to find my family! We have to! They could still out there! Several others could be with them! What if they're trapped somewhere, what if...” She paused and swallowed hard at the thought. “What if whatever was out there has caught them! We have to go back! My brothers, my sister... my...” Tears began to flood her eyes, the pace of her breath quickening, her heart pounding away in her chest with extreme intenscity, as her hands trembled with fear, and the agonizing thought gripped her into a near hyperventilation.
Quickly Rozlend took grasp of her.“Shhh... shh... shh... shhh.” He hushed her softly, interrupting her outspoken thoughts as he pulled her close, attempting to comfort her. His large, strong arms pulling her close into an unfamiliar grasp against his rock-hard chest, as she crossed her arms and pressed her hands into her face against her sobbing eyes.
“Thomas, what if it's a trap? Rozlend spoke softly as he gently wrapped a solid grip around Keira's ears.
“The Sylph are probably swarming all over that place by now. Even if we do manage to get in there somehow, it's most likely that anyone that did survive the initial attack is dead by now.”
Keira sobbed harder, as if Rozlend's grasp failed to block out the undeniable truth, tears flowing down her cheeks.
“It doesn't matter.” Thomas replied calmly. His ancient eyes studying the distant tree line, as a gentle breeze blew in through the length of his long silver locks. “Keira's right... we have to go back, there could still be survivors?”
“And if there is?”
“Then we need to figure a way to get them to safety quickly.”
“Even if there are survivors and it is a trap, which it probably is, whatever attacked the city out there will be lead straight here! We'll be followed! And that's probably exactly what they want!”
“We can't leave them all out there to die Rozlend... if we do... well... then we're no better than he is.” Thomas mumbled under his breath.
“He? You think Azazel is behind all of this?”
“The timing is perfect; he knows she's of age... he's... he's searching for her.” Thomas spoke softly. His eyes tightened in thought, the words laid out as if he had found the missing piece to a puzzle. “It won't be long before he sends a search party out to find her... if he hasn't already.”
“The Sylph, on your travels down here... you think he sent it?”
“I think we definitely weren't alone on our journey down here. But there must have been more than just the creature that followed, more than just the one that was fought off.”
“But that doesn't make sense, Sylphs are destructive by nature, they don't calculate their attacks.”
“No... they don't... but a shade would.”
“A Shade? Wait, what's a Shade?” Keira interrupted. Thomas clinched his eyes shut tightly at the sound of her voice. It was obvious to Keira that the very thought of introducing her to further danger pained him as he had began to search for the words to speak. “Whatever it is, whatever
your thinking, say it! I can handle it!” Her voiced shaked.
“Very well... shades are vicious... sadistic... merciless creatures, their very nature is unforgiving, and they will devour anything and destroy anyone that stands in their way. Regardless of how Sylphs -being as uncontrollable as they are, they are still no match against the powers of a Shade.”
“Then how is it possible for them to control such creatures if Sylphs are known to be untamable?”
“A Shade's touch is filled with a very overwhelming, very excruciating sense of pain, so much so, that they can make you feel as if you only wish is to please them in order to escape it. And once a Shade has hold of you, it is nearly impossible to think with a rational, conscious mind. The pain of it’s touch is overwhelming and unbearable, but it will only vanish so long as the creature's needs are met, and so long as they decide to free you. This must be how they’ve been controlling the Sylph, a sylph's power is useless against a Shade, think of it as a sadistic way of mind control.”
“Then what makes them so deadly?”
“They have been giving the name “Shade” simply because they are as such, large, black, nearly transparent creatures, that can vanish as quickly as they appear. Appearing simply as nothing but darkness under the cover of a distant tree line, or the shade of a over hanging rooftop. They are almost unnoticeable, undectable... until it is too late, and you’ve become trapped within its claw like hold, swallowed whole by the darkness and it's large gashing teeth. Trying to catch such a beast, is like trying to catch smoke with your bare hands, it’s impossible.”
“But you said it's almost unnoticeable, almost undetectable. Then how do you tell... how do you distinguish it from the norm, if you're trying to search for it?”
“Sometimes, you can find them looming in the darkness, like a haze, or an undulating mist. Other times, lurking in shadows, further hidden away from the knowledge of the human eye.”
“Like the day we came here.” Keira whispered to herself.
“What?” Thomas questioned as he neared closer to her.
“When you were asleep in the forest, just before the bridge on the eastern border, I saw something... like a slight haze, or mist. Just lurking beneath the shadows like some sort of living, breathing smoke... right before the Sylph attacked. There was something about it that bothered me but I didn't know what.”
“I never should have let me guard down. And I wont make that mistake again.” Thomas shock his head towards the ground. “Keira... I trust you know by now to listen to these instincts. They are more than just mere emotions, they are what make you who you are. Wielders are ruled by their emotions, by their instincts, it's where their powers derive from, and the more you listen to them, the more exercise your abilities
-Keira, the next time this happens... I urge you not to hesitate, it could very well save your life.”
“Then that's it, they know she's here. But why attack her home first, why not attack us?” Rozlend interrupted.
“A scare tactic, he's trying to call her out, he's knows we're with her... he's toying with her.” Thomas turned back towards Rozlend, his stare gazing up upon Keira's sober eyes. “Trying to use her emotions against her, he's trying to get her to come to him.”
Keira's eyes lit up, half of her face still pressed into Rozlend's chest, her arms gripping her brother's shoulders tightly, as he looked down upon her horrified face.
“You realize if we do this Thomas... we'll be followed. We'll have lead them straight here, straight to her.”
“No.” Interrupted Maedoc, his approach nearly unnoticeable. “We won't have to lead them here. We can lead them one of the other entrances, but we'll have to be fast about it.”
“Entrances?” Thomas questioned.
“I'm sorry for being so secretive old friend, but given the circumstances, I believe you would understand as to why I had to take such precautions.” They were standing inside the cottage, overlooking the fireplace as Maedoc turned towards it.
“Maedoc? Where is my father? Where's Phillip?” Keira questioned with confusion, as she glanced back towards their empty cots.
“I assure you, your father, and Phillip are safe.” Maedoc replied. His small green hand reaching out for one of the large river rocks that encased the stone fireplace. He turned the stone clockwise until it seemed to snap into place, followed by a bunch of loud metallic clicks. Gears turning and locking one by one into place, until suddenly, the entire stone fireplace moved with a gentlest of ease from where it once stood. The fire still burning as if undisturbed, finally revealing beneath it a small, metal, secret passageway that lead somewhere beneath the ground itself. Maedoc bent down and took grip upon the doors large metal handle. He hoisted the door up comfirming their thoughts as he revealed to them a long, narrow, stairwell, leading deep into an underground passage.
“Well, go on.” the tiny goblin gestured with a hand. “I assure you, it is very safe.” A slight smirk crossing his face as he gazed up upon the surprised looks of his fellow comrades. Still, they hesitated, and with a loud huff Rozlend made a slight gesture for them to follow as he began his descent down into the dark passageway without hesitation. Thomas and Keira slowly following closely behind.
The tunnel seemed to stretch on almost forever. Its depths creeping slowly lower and lower into the crust of the earth. And as they walked lit torches were lined against the walls of the tunnel. Light filling their path as they walked further down into the ever descending passage. The tunnel winded, and twisted, curving in various directions. At times splitting off into several different paths.
“Maedoc, where do these other passages go?” Keira pointed.
“Oh, don't mind those. They don’t lead to anywhere really. Just paths traveling further into the earth. Traps really... in case some unwanted visitors happen to find their way into our tunnels. It's best if you stick closely to the main path. But if you get lost you can always manage to find a sign somewhere hidden along the way.”
“Symbols really.” he replied. His tiny stub like finger resting upon two small symbols carved deep into the hard walls of the tunnel. One shaped as a upside down triangle with a line passing through the mid of it. The other lying upright with a line crossing through the top. “Ancient symbols of earth and air; one leading down, while the other leads up, towards the ground level. There are several of them down here, if you look hard enough you can find them. This is how we've been finding our ways around the tunnels. But since these tunnels were laid here so many years ago we've pretty much memorized the paths by now.”
“We? You don't really mean just you and Rozlend do you?” Keira interrupted.
“Well... I assume you wanted to know why I mentioned “hermit” wasn't exactly an accurate term for me; don't you?” he smiled. “Then I also assume you remember me telling you how the kingdoms of our former leaders were destroyed? Well... this is what became of them. This is where they found sanctuary; this... is where they found home. Now, I apologize for all the secretiveness, and the sudden inhospitable manner but...” Maedoc stopped and pulled out two red handkerchiefs. “Seeing as you two are unknown to these lands I'm afraid this is the end of our tour, the council wouldn't appreciate me leading newcomers into their city. And since the great diminish... well... surely you must understand that trust has become more then a serious issue down here these days. So I ask you to trust me on this. You’ll need to place these blindfolds over your eyes. But don't worry, I'm sure the council will come to trust you more quickly once I’ve explained to them who you are.” Maedoc handed the handkerchiefs to Rozlend, who secured them into place over their eyes. “Just... whatever you do, don't say a word, and try to follow behind me... closely.” He urged. “Soon we'll be at the guard’s station and they'll want to make sure we’ve reached your destination. Once we're there you’ll be able to remove the blindfolds. But for now... I ask that you please... have patience with me for just a little while longer until then.”
© Copyright 2008 Nataliya Maize. All rights reserved.