When I broke through the surface, I had expected her to be standing beside the water, ready to pull me up and show me something else spectacular. But, she was lying down on her back, looking up at the specks of mushrooms on the ceiling that looked like the starry night sky. She had a blank face and I couldn’t tell if the stream flowing from her eyes were tears or water.
I pulled myself out of the water and sat beside her, my feet hanging into the pool. The glow from the crystals were still brightly shining and creating a mystical effect beneath the water. I couldn’t help but think to myself how incredible she was and how tight my stomach felt at the sight of her so barren of emotion. In this way, anyway. Typically, from what I’ve gathered since being around her, she had a stealthy face. Hard to read, firm and soft all at once. Like there was a surprise waiting for you around each turn if you could just make it to the corner. But, now, she seemed numb. Broken. I didn’t like it one bit.
I wanted to say something, but I was tongue tied, thinking that anything I said would be the wrong thing to say. So, I kept quiet. Until, she asked me, “Where does a person’s heart go when someone has stolen it in the hopes that it would lead them to the salvation of an entire clan?”
“What an odd thing to ask.” I thought. Since I did not fully understand the question, I didn’t think it would be appropriate to try answering. So, I left my mouth shut and my eyes on hers as they stared into a veiled distance.
She turned to her side with a heavy breath. “Where does it go when that person throws the heart away because it couldn’t work the way they’d wanted it to?”
“Love?” I thought. “Is she talking about love?”
I wanted to say something but I couldn't find the words. As her body lie limp on the floor of the cave, I felt something in me sadden with her. I couldn't explain it or even understand it then, but something inside knew I had to be the one to ease her pain. But, how? If I couldn't at least find the words to say, how could I help? As that question crossed my mind, I felt a strong urge to do something entirely too vulnerable for me. In that moment, it felt like the right thing to do. So, I made a split second decision to lie down beside her.
I rested my hand on her shoulder and pulled her a bit so she would lie on her back. Then, before I could talk myself out of it, I took the spot next to her on the rocky ground. We didn’t touch, we didn’t move much and I tried my best not to make her uncomfortable with my awkward attempt at helping. Things felt tense for a minute. Until we started talking, anyway.
“Where are you from?” She asked softly. I could still feel her pain in every pitch of her voice and it ached in me.
“I was born in Caltanon,” I began. “But, I grew up in Klharym.”
“Is that why you were headed this direction when you fled from the-”
“Those Ryuan deserved what they got!” I knew I sounded angry. But, I just couldn’t help myself. I calmed myself with a short, deep breath and softened my voice immensely before speaking again. “I promise you, if you knew what they did…”
Before I could finish, she sat up in a sudden burst and interrupted me by saying, “You don’t have to explain. I don’t care what reasons you had for doing what you did. But you should always be proud of the things you do, Fire. And if you have any hint of doubt at all, it’s not something you should do.”
“I didn’t have to think about whether or not what I did was right.” I said, softly. I had truly accepted my own feelings on the matter. “It just was. After what happened.. After the things they had done… They all deserved to die. I only wish I could have finished them all off. But, I was weak.”
“Stop.” She said and turned her head to look at me. “I never want to hear you say that you are weak. Never again.”
I sat up and stared at her for what felt like several minutes. The shine in her eyes had returned, for the moment and I could feel my heart leap at the sight of them. Whenever she got that glint of silver in her eye, it was as if I could see a new world opening up on the other side of them. Something about this girl was just so different from the rest of the world. I was tongue tied, for that and many other reasons and all I could do was watch her give me that look of determined compassion.
She softened again, just a bit and gave a light sigh before speaking again. “Fire,” She began, but was cut off by the distant sound of an explosion as tiny bits of rock and dust fell from just above our heads. She flew to her feet effortlessly and I followed suit, but she was already making her way back up the falls before I could fully stand.
When I got myself back up, onto the platform under the falls, I quickly realized that I had no idea how to get myself back up. I called out to Suende, but she was already long gone. Panic began to rise within me as I searched around the rest of the room for an exit. I found nothing. I couldn’t get myself out. I couldn’t go help, I couldn’t go fight. Then, I realized that I was more afraid that I couldn’t protect her.
The cave floor rumbled as another explosion waved through, even louder and stronger this time. I held my footing until the blast was finished, then dove into the water again. I began to search the pool for a way out.
I had searched through at least a quarter of the crystals before another explosion finally came. I could feel that it was stronger than before, even as the water around me soaked up the majority of the shock. I still hadn’t found any sign of an exit and the blasts were getting louder, probably even closer. I remember thinking over and over again that I had to get up there with her. I had to fight! How could I with no way to get there?
Ready to give up searching, I caught a glimpse of a crystal with a pulsating glow rather than a continuous one. It was so well hidden, I had to squint while I swam toward it to get a better look. As I got closer, a couple more started doing the same. But, I stopped when the pulsing light crept across the entire bed of crystal in unison. Something wasn’t right. I could feel it.
I felt a hot stinging sensation on my neck and in my throat. The feeling was subtle, but obvious to me. Then, my heart dropped to my stomach as I realized, Suende’s power was beginning to wear off and I raced toward the surface emerging just in time to hear a faint scream.
The glow beneath me suddenly extinguished as my throat felt like it burst into flames. Thought it lasted only a few seconds, leaving a residue of sore thirst, the pain had been incredible. I didn't care, though. I had to get up there.
I felt a great, intense spark within me. My blood ran hot with surging fury and my eyes flickered orange with dancing flames. I felt the water around me bubble up against my skin as I threw a concentrated blast of heat from the palm of my hand. I watched it leap the cave room and hit a giant mushroom cap on the other side of the pool. It’s top burst into flames and corroded beneath the embers causing melted, green pieces of the pink cap to fall to the floor below it. As the flames died down, what I had done began to hit me and my heart jolted with panicked joy. I had thrown fire from my own hands for the very first time and now I knew how to find my way out. I had a way to fight back.
I swam to the ledge and lifted myself out of the pool. I was ready to blast myself out of there when a crash came through the ceiling, throwing me back into the water. As I saw something entering the room, I decided to hide myself behind the platform under the falls and observe for a moment.
From the rubble, emerged a small, slender woman with green eyes that cut through the dusty cloud before her. She stepped forward, revealing herself in garb made of a silky, pale pink material. Her silvery, lavender hair was shaven on the right side of her head and on the left, was a waterfall braid that trailed to her mid-back and gathered together with a ribbon of gold near the end. Her top hung loosely over her breasts and slightly revealed the underside of them. Elegantly woven knots fell from the side of her top and gracefully flowed into a skirt that hung far down on her other hip and spilled down her legs in an uneven ripple. On her left arm and right leg were golden works of metal, intricately entangled, creating an impressive depiction of a heart as it beamed light across its horizon.
She scanned the room as two shadowy figures dropped in behind her and seemed to await her command. After a moment, she extended her right arm out in front of her and a faint beam of light raised about 4 inches from her palm. When it expanded slightly, she began to speak to it.
“Fairval,” She said. “I have taken down Polar Bear and Winged Wolf.”
The beam shifted and pulsated with a response, “Good girl. And what of Phoenix?”
She sighed as her brows lowered. “There’s no sign of Phoenix, your eminence.” I knew she was dangerous, but I couldn’t help but get the feeling that she didn’t want to be doing what she was at that moment.
“Well,” the voice boomed over every mushroom in the cave. “Find it. And destroy it!”
Her face became absent and cold. “As you wish,” She said distantly.
The beam shrank and lowered back into her palm. For a long moment, she stood there staring into the water. She looked worried and shrunken, as if she were in pain. Then, she gathered herself, took a deep breath and commanded for her companions to fan out and search.
Now that the dust had settled, I could see the figures that had come in behind her a little better. One of them were tall and very thin, with lean muscle that bulged slightly when he moved his arms. His hair was black with a pure, white strip that came from behind one of his pointed ears. It was mostly hidden by the rest of his hair, which began at medium length on his right side and shortened until the rest was simply shaven. He had a bow on his back but I saw no quiver or arrows and he had a strange tattoo up both of his arms. It looked tribal and exactly how I would imagine the wind to look. He reminded me of a nomad with the way he dressed as well as his all around presence.
The other figure was very large and had thick muscle. He wore the pelt of an animal around his waist, which was a thick, dark brown. His arms and legs had scars that looked like his prize had given them to him before falling to his hand. The same color of the bear-head he wore over his head, hiding not only his hair, but his face as well. He seemed to not have a weapon, but he didn’t need one to look like he could kill me. He reminded me of a dire wolf; powerful and large, but still graceful and very dangerous.
Each of them began to stalk about the cave on either side of the pool. Searching under mushroom caps and behind large, heavy rocks, they weren’t having much luck. Then, the thin one came to the spot Suende and I had been lying on ground and stopped to observe it. He looked around the room by shifting his eyes before returning to his search, leaving the spot behind.
I felt a small hint of relief untwist my stomach when he walked away from it, but then felt it return when my attention turned from him, back to the strange woman leading him. Her eyes pierced through the room straight into my own and my heart sank. Thinking I’d been caught, I didn’t know what to do from there. I was trapped.
She extended her arms out from her sides, breaking eye contact with me to look at her minions. A single mushroom on either side blinked once, grabbing both of their attention. The two of them looked back at their mistress and she brought her hands together fluidly.
“Well,” She said. “It looks as though we’ve got a snake in the water!”
My heart dropped even further and I backed up a little to put myself further under the platform above my head.
The woman chucked playfully, then said. “Oh come now, dear Phoenix! No point in hiding from me now! Zomeil! Fetch the traitor for me, would you?”
Then, the large figure turned in my direction, smiling crookedly, and heaved his leg up and stomped it to the ground. As he did so, a crystal from the bottom of the pool extended upward and pierced through the surface of the water just behind me. He tugged his arms backward in a pulling motion. I swam to the right just in time to dodge the crystal as it moved toward me, unhindered by the drag of the water or the other crystals in it’s path.
She let out a loud laugh. “Okay then,” she taunted. “Kinmi, it’s your turn.”
He took the bow from his back and slid his hand down the string with elegant, pale fingers. As his hand reached the middle, the air around the bow became visible and concentrated into a tightly formed wind tunnel in the shape of an arrow as he drew back the string.
I dove under as he released his grip and was lifted out of the pool when the arrow made contact with the water. He shot another arrow while I was suspended, but this one burst into an intricately woven net. It wrapped itself around me, tightly and I crashed back down to the wet abyss below.
Sinking quickly, I began to panic as I tried to wiggle myself free of the net, but it was no use. I couldn’t breathe or move. Still, I looked around. desperate to find something sharp to cut the ropes with. But, the darkness covered all but maybe a foot in front of him, which made the search quick and painful.
Just as I was about to give up, a light shown in the corner of my eye. I wiped my head around to find it and quickly realized it was a crystal, very small, but just visible enough for me to see. The color wasn’t the same as before, this time blinking in a dim, purple color. My heart lifted a little with the relief that Suende was alive and telling me so. But, I hastily lost excitement when I couldn’t hold my breath any longer and gasped my lungs full of water.
I felt arms around me, cold and comforting... And everything grew darker than the blackened water surrounding me.
Suddenly, I was in a mansion, surrounded by ice and had no memory of how I got there. As I looked around, everything felt familiar, somehow, but I couldn't bring forth a single memory of being there.
The walls and pillars had layers upon layers of frost over them and each corner I'd turned was webbed with spikes of ice. The only thing that seemed untouched by the freeze-over was the floor, dressed in finely woven carpeting over marble that stretched to each and every corner of the place. Everything else, however, was bathed in a a rich blue-ish color and was cold as the whitened cap of the world.
I turned corner after corner, thinking I'd never find what I was looking for. I knew I wasn't searching for the exit but I couldn't figure out what exactly I had been looking for. And then, there she was, standing in the center of the ballroom in a slender, silvery dress that slit up her leg and closed at her upper thigh. Her radiant eyes luminescent under the light of the moon, which had been leaking in from the windowed dome above.
She gestured for me to come toward her and said, “It's not over, yet.”
I resisted the urge to swallow nervously at the sight of her and stepped in her direction, feeling the beating of my heart with every landing of my foot to the ground. She extended her hand for me to take it in my own and I reached to touch it. I felt my fingers touch her skin for the hair of a second, but my hand slipped right through hers with a ripple effect over her skin.
Something inside me dropped and I reached out again, this time the ripple was more intense. She, however, seemed oblivious to the fact that this was happening, smiling at me with dignified grace. I took a deep breath, trying to shake off my nerves. Then, I reached for her hand one more time. This time, I could feel her skin against mine for at least 30 second before my fingers fell through her again.
The ripple continued as her face changed to a terrified expression and she slipped “Don't give up...” from her tongue, then stiffened and shattered around me. As her pieces hit the floor, they burst into silvery-white dust. It sifted right through my fingers as I tried to pull her up and put her back together again, but my effort was to no avail.
Collapsed to my knees, I tilted my head back to look at the moon and as I did, it's silver light bled away and disappeared. Leaving nothing but a floating mass of dust behind, just the way she had a moment before.
I felt a tear escape my eye for the first time since I was a child. It burned down my cheek and dripped from my chin, landing directly on my hand where it met my wrist. When I saw it was bright, glowing orange and burrowing into me as it melted my skin, I felt my blood boil, then quickly burn out.
“What do you know?” I said under my breath to myself. “Useless without power, useless with it, too.”
Another tear fell over the other, but I no longer felt the pain. I simply sat there, alone, clutching shattered happiness in my very own hands and watching as it slipped silently through my fingers.
Every sound I heard around me was distorted as I coughed and gasped for air. The water in my lungs expelled itself from my body as my upper torso jolted off the ground a little with each cough. It stung my nose and burned my eyes, but as I gasped for air, the clouds over the world receded. I was alive. I was actually alive.
I stayed lying on the ground, catching my breath and watched the things around me come back into focus. Then, I remembered that there had been a break in to the cave and my heart thumped with fear as I rushed to my feet. Feeling dazed from the sudden movement, I stumbled a little, but quickly regathered myself just in time for a hand to reach out and grab my arm.
Panic flashed through my nerves and I turned in the direction from which I was touched, ready to strike. My fist came within inches of their face before I really saw who it was. I stopped, but my heart beat wildly in chest, aching with relief at the sight of her. Alive, right in front of me, holding my arm was Suende.
Her eyes were wide and she had a burn on her shoulder and claw marks across her chest. She grabbed my other arm and whispered, “We have to go, now.”
I felt a tear unwillingly fall from my eye as I nodded.
Something in her eyes shifted, making them look brighter. She slid her hand into mine and nodded back to me. We each turned and ran in through a dark tunnel that wasn't there before. As soon as we'd stepped through safely, the opening sealed itself behind as and what little light had come from it, faded away entirely.
Her leading the way, I ran with Suende through the darkness. Our feet hitting the rocky floor was a sound that echoed through, bouncing off of each wall. It wasn't long before I realized there were hallways conjoined with this one as the sound would travel differently on occasion. I began to think that I should start asking questions, but decided to hold them to myself until we were out of immediate danger.
The passageway slowly became dotted with glowing mushrooms here and there until finally they covered the walls entirely. I could see for the most part now, thanks to the soft glow lighting out way and I finally got to see down the connecting corridors.
At the end of each one, from there on at least, was a line of bars sectioning off a small portion of the hall. Some were empty and others had indistinct figures in them that I couldn't catch a good enough glimpse at while running. I wondered to myself if they had planned to put me in one of those cells or if there was something darker going on.
We finally came to the end of the passage where a thin, blue-ish looking door rested intimidatingly within a steel frame.
“This is it,” She said. “Once we're in here, we'll be totally safe for a while.”
I thought it best not to ask her any questions at that moment. She looked calm, but I could feel her panic. I didn't want to cause any more problems for her while she was in that state.
She made a diamond shape with her hands where the doorknob was missing, then tilted them slightly to the right. With a faint clicking noise, the door popped open slightly. Then, she turned to look at me. Her hand found its way back to mine and she gazed into my eyes with a serious power I'd never felt before.
“Fire,” she began. “I need you to not think too hard about this right now, okay? You weren't supposed to see any of this yet. But, I had no choice. I had to protect you.”
Fear blossomed inside of me as I wondered what terrible things were about to be shown to me. “What do you mean?” I asked.
She shook her head and I saw her shell crack as her pain slipped through. “I really need you to promise me this. Promise me you wont think about it. Just be here and don't think about it. Please. Can you do that?”
Unsure of the promise I was making, I nodded my head silently.
Turning toward the door, again, Suende gave a light push. The door opened and we both walked through the doorway together and allowed the door to close behind us.