Times of pleasure must come to an untimely end. In this instance for Natalia the end leads to the continuation of her objective to head deeper into Yenvark Union territory. Deep into the Scar of Yul, where shadowy beasts lurk.
The featured art was done by Mattias and you can see more of his work here – website.
The editing was done by Luke Thompson and here is his – website.
The Scar of Yul was the sight of a grand battle nearly three hundred years ago. It was once another piece of the Glodan plains, rolling hills and beauty. Nothing special from the land surrounding it. It was in this uninteresting part of Glodoran that Derdainia and Yenvark first met. Yenvark at the time had little interest in the area and had only sent an expeditionary force to scout the area and see if they could exploit it to attack Derdainia from the north. Initially, they struck deep into the land and left with great success. It would only be a year later that Yenvark would return with a grand army. However, Derdainia was prepared this time and the two forces met. With so much open space the two armies clashed with swords and musket. Little by little, Yenvark began to lose. It was in this moment that the Great Yul cast forth a grand spell of destruction upon the imperial forces. Blinded by the chance of defeat, Yul ignored the waves of great magical current deep underground. The chain reaction which ensued ripped the land asunder beneath his feet, and in the end only the Scar of Yul remained. Nearly every single Yenvark soldier who participated in that battle was swallowed up by the scar. Rough estimates put the causality count at a little over half a million… in a single day of fighting. Compared to Derdainia’s estimated two hundred thousand causalities, Yenvark had faced a crushing defeat that day. They would not return to the northern lands of Derdainia until their discovery of the Primordial Tower.
-Scholar Telorl Uvish, The Study of Great Battles
Time had slipped by for Natalia, sitting in the comfort of the cozy living room after dinner. Her seat on the cushioned couch with her feet propped up on a cushioned footstool left her in a vegetative state of bliss. Sitting in one of the chairs across from her was Albert who had busied himself with telling her all sorts of war stories of his youth, tales of heroism and action in the vast space of the Erien Desert’s mountainous dunes to the near pitch black depths of the Raytor Forest floors. A low rumble of thunder with the light tapping of rain against the windows only helping to add to the mood of the room. The feeling for Natalia was only exasperated when Ellen brought around cups of warm cinnamon tea.
The old man with white hair around his ears and pudgy belly who seemed slow and methodical when returning to the house just before dinner now seemed full of life as he told his story, his hands moving with the motion of his words as if he was in the moment again carrying his rifle through all sorts of dangers. “Crawling though that jungle with my lance following behind me was muddy and left me absolutely miserable!” Albert paused to take a sip of his tea before placing it on the small table besides his chair. “But, when we got to that rocky ridge and looked down to see a Talmakian patrol, all that effort was well worth it.” He brought his hands up as if he was holding a rifle, eyes looking down the sights. “I took aim, then bang!” He kicked back with recoil.
“Did you hit one?” Natalia asked. She held her cup of tea, enjoying the warmth in the palm of her hands.
Albert smiled, big ears rising. “Oh, I hit one alright. My comrades all fired after me and a moment later all of the Talmakian’s were lying dead in that jungle except for one.”
“What did you do with him? Shoot him?”
“No, no.” Albert chuckled, “He looked at us with wide eyes, shaking like a leaf, young kid, mmm, maybe a year or two younger then you.” Albert moved his hands as if he was holding a pistol in one with it pointed down. “Next thing I know my vezeto walks down to the kid and points a pistol to the boys head. I honestly thought he was going to shoot the boy’s brains out for a minute, instead my vezeto started to laugh. I didn’t understand at first, but then I noticed the piss stain between the boy’s legs.” He waved his hand. “Terrible I know, but in the moment…” He crossed his arms, “So my vezeto crosses his arms and literally barks at the boy and he goes scurrying off as if on command.” Albert placed both hands on the arms of the chair. “After that we’d always bark like dogs when our vezeto tried to give us orders!” He kicked back into the chair laughing.
Natalia snickered at the thought of grown men barking.
“So, tell us Natalia, do you have any exciting stories yet?” Ellen asked after settling in the chair besides Albert’s, her own cup of tea nestled between her wrinkled hands.
“Well…” Natalia paused to think on it.
“She might be too young!’ Albert laughed some more before straightening himself in his chair.
She shook her head. “No, I think I have one that you may like.”
Albert leaned forward, brow rising with curiosity. “Please share then, I’d love to hear a story from the youth of our glorious Imperium.”
“Well,” Natalia paused as her mind sifted through her earliest missions a few years back. “I had this one comrade, Viktor, a serious one, barely spoke a word and when he did it was about rules and discipline. A real pain, but he was reliable, and I could tell my vezeto appreciated that as a bunch of the others in the lance were talkers. We were still young and fresh out of the academy.”
“You were assigned to a lance? You are an esper are you not?” Albert interrupted.
“I am an esper, but I was inexperienced for fighting so I was assigned to the forward encampment in the Bosakil mountains.”
“That’s such a cold, frightful place,” Ellen said, shaking from an invisible chill that came over her. She tightened the sweater around her shoulders.
“It really was, but I got used to it.” Natalia smiled at the silence of the mountains, “I supported a few different cespauts in the area, but typically I worked the most with this newly formed group of young recruits who were my age.”
“And that’s where you met this Viktor character?” Albert asked.
“That’s right,” Natalia smiled, “Some of the others would tease him about his strict discipline, especially the daring Lena who seemed to never quit talking. She was in a lot of ways the complete opposite of Viktor.” Natalia closed her eyes remembering the day, “We were out on patrol one sunny morning, snow was glistening, almost blinding if you stared too long. Walking through the fresh snow was slow going, however we were making the route in a timely fashion and were sure to be back at camp in an hour to eat some hot stew or whatever special concoction the cooks were brewing that day. Confident there’d be no run-in with Union, Lena began talking more loudly; of course she included the usual jokes about Viktor and we’d all laugh.” She took a pause and looked down to see Albert leaning in his chair enthusiastically listening, warmth came to her cheeks at the attention she was receiving.
“Go on, what happened next,” he encouraged.
“Sorry,” she looked off and spotted a mountainous landscape pictured on the wall and she smiled at the thought of that cold day. “Next thing we know this loud bang goes off. I turn and I see Lena with rifle raised pointed at a distant boulder higher up on the ridge. A series of gunshots echoed around us and they sounded real, not just echos from the mountains so we all scattered like chickens for whatever the closest cover was. More gunshots are going off and Lena is cursing up a storm, I thought for sure an avalanche was going to happen at any moment from all her yelling, it was loud!” she exclaimed which elicited a chuckle from Albert. She smiled and kept going. “Lena stands up and fired another couple of rounds towards the boulder, some of the others joining her in the volley. This goes on for another minute or two, us all popping up to fire at this snowy ridge riddled with bullet holes. By this point I’m starting to wonder if the enemy is dead, already gone, or too scared to move. Then I realized the returning gunshot, it’s got the same tone to it repeating over and over.”
“Don’t tell me, a howler bunny?” Ellen asks.
Natalia’s smile grew as she continued, “That’s when Viktor shouts out to hold our fire and starts marching up to the ridge. The rest of us all watched quietly as he made his way up and reached behind a boulder to hold up a white thick necked rabbit by its scruff, poor thing was scared stiff.”
Albert chuckled. “Incredible, a rabbit! What did Viktor say?”
“He let the rabbit go and marched back down, all the while Lena is starting to spit out some ridiculous excuse. Viktor comes walking up, his face as dull and straight-faced as ever, gets Lena to pause, and just shook his head and continued on our original path. The look on Lena’s face.” Natalia stifled her laugh, “From that point on her nickname was rabbit.”
“What an unfortunate name, but a great story, I’m sure you all remind her about it whenever you get a chance,” Albert said.
“Oh, Uh.” Natalia stopped, her smile changing to a grimace.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to strike a chord,” Albert said and turned to his cup of tea to take another swig.
“No, you’re fine,” Natalia said.
“I really do appreciate the story and I hope you share many more the next time you’re in the area.”
“I’d be glad to.” Natalia smiled again.
Ellen stood and began to walk towards the kitchen, cane tapping. “Either of you need more tea?”
“No, thank you,” she replied.
“I’d like more, my love.” Albert said, watching his wife go before turning back to Natalia. “I was wondering, Natalia, have you been through the Scar before?”
Natalia shook her head, “No, I’ve only ever heard about it, but from what I understand it’s a frightful place filled with monsters.”
Albert took the last of his tea and placed the empty cup back on its dish. “You aren’t far off the mark; I’ve been through it a few times. It was mostly scavengers, and runts for that matter, they ran before I could even raise my rifle.” Albert leaned heavily on the left arm of the chair, head resting in the palm of his hand. “I haven’t been back in its depths since it begun to expand again ten years ago. I have heard plenty of tales though from talking with some of the Union soldiers. Tales of savage beasts eager to eat anyone who enters.” He rubbed at his forehead, beads of sweat forming. “I’ve gone back a few times now to peer over the edge and see if I can catch a glimpse of one.”
“And have you seen one?”
“Not quite. Only shadows moving in the dark when I’ve looked over the cliff side. But I’m confident if I went in that they wouldn’t run from my rifle this time.”
Ellen came back, a fresh cup of tea in hand which she replaced Albert’s cup with. “Have you taken your medication yet, dear?”
“No, not yet.” Albert reached into a pocket for a handkerchief which he used to dab at the sweat.
“I’ll be right back,” Ellen said and went off towards another room in the house.
Natalia leaned forward and realized just how much sweat had formed and dampened Albert’s shirt collar. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, I just need my medicine.” His excited movements and eager voice were gone, and she now saw a tired, old man. “Can you get me water?”
“Of course,” Natalia said and hopped to her feet without hesitation, rushing to the kitchen. Filling a glass with tap water she hurried back and offered it to Albert who eagerly downed the whole glass. “Should I get more?”
“Please,” he replied.
Heading back to the kitchen she began to refill the glass. He looks so strained, what happened? She overheard Ellen’s cane tapping as the old wife returned to Albert’s side. Turning off the faucet she walked back into the room and offered the glass once more.
“Oh, you already got the water, thank you sweetie, that was very kind,” Ellen said with a smile.
“Thank you, the both of you,” Albert said with a sigh after downing a pill with a gulp of water. He looked to Ellen and took the fresh towel to wipe at his face.
Natalia returned to her seat to sit at the edge uncertain of what to do, her hands clasped together. “Do you need me to do anything else?”
“Not at all,” Albert said with a shake of his head.
“Do you mind, um…”
“Asking what happened?”
Albert chuckled. “I’m not exactly sure, I just get these terrible sweats and my heart races.” He rubbed at his chest from a pain that had subsided. “It’s as if my heart is going to leave my chest at any moment.” With the sweat wiped away, he took a deep breath, nerves relaxing again.
“Have you ever talked to a doctor about it?”
He handed the wet towel and handkerchief to Ellen. “Thank you again, my love.”
She smiled in reply and gently rubbed his arm in a reassuring way before walking off towards the laundry room.
Albert turned back to Natalia, a little bit of the energy he had before returning, “I have after Ellen’s insistence. The doctor couldn’t give me a solid answer, but he believes when compared to a bunch of others he’s helped that it’s to do with the war. Some sort of traumatic disorder or some such.” Albert pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration before sinking in his chair with a growing exhaustion. “I don’t want to believe him, but it always seems to happen when I think of this forsaken war. For all the good it did me and all I gave, it just won’t leave me alone.”
“Well, have you thought of retiring?” Natalia asked.
“I’ve been at it for as long as I can remember girl, I don’t know if I could stop at this point. I think I’ll keep fighting until a Union soldier puts a bullet in my head or my heart finally gives up on me.” Albert reached for his tea and drank more before letting out a heavy sigh, “And anyways, most of the time I feel retired. A fighter like me drinking tea between missions in front of the fireplace? Along with my beautiful wife? I couldn’t ask for more.” Looking over to the returning Ellen he smiled to her.
“Talking about me again, honey?” Ellen asked.
“Yes, with our new friend of course.” He chuckled.
“I hope it’s only good things.”
“I never speak ill of you my love, isn’t that right, Natalia?” Albert asked.
“Of course.” Natalia smiled.
A closer boom of thunder brought a brief pause to the conversation. Natalia stared at the curtains, the sound of wind and rain picking up left her ill at ease.
“You aren’t seriously leaving during this storm, are you?” Ellen asked.
“Yes, we need to get moving and the night is the best time to move,” Natalia sighed and looked towards a clock hanging up on the wall. She stood slowly; her hands still clasped together in nervousness.
“But…” Ellen began.
Steps from the kitchen alerted Natalia. Looking back, she saw Orsolya come walking into the edge of the light in the dimly lit room.
“Ready?” Orsolya asked.
“As ready as I can be.” Natalia replied. Another distant echo of thunder. Back into the night and towards the Scar of all things. I didn’t think I’d miss the freezing mountains so much.
“Surely you can stay for another night, maybe the weather will clear up then?” Ellen asked.
“It can’t be helped; they have a mission,” Albert said, his voice stern. He looked over to Orsolya. “I hope I need not remind you to be careful out there?”
“We’ll be fine, old man,” Orsolya said with a laugh and walked to Albert to offer her hand.
Albert stood and returned the handshake. “That’s what you say all the time, yet you seemed to show up covered in blood more often than not.”
“I didn’t this time,” Orsolya said.
“Hopefully, it stays like that!” Ellen cut in.
“No promises.” Orsolya smiled and hugged Ellen before stepping back. “I’ll leave the key under the cobblestone like usual. Thank you as always the both of you.”
“Yes, thank you, Albert and Ellen for dinner and tea. I really enjoyed spending my time with both of you,” Natalia said with a smile.
Albert stretched his hand out. “I look forward to hearing the new stories you’ll experience when you come back here.”
Natalia shook his hand. “I’ll be glad to share them with you.”
Ellen stepped forward with arms stretched out, embracing Natalia in a full hug, “When you visit, I’ll have a new recipe of fresh food for you to enjoy!”
Caught off guard at first, Natalia returned the hug. “That sounds wonderful, thank you.”
Taking a step back, Ellen wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. “You remind me so much of me when I was younger. Do take care of yourself, Natalia, and don’t go taking unnecessary risks, okay?”
“Okay.” She pulled away and nodded to Orsolya who took the lead towards the kitchen, the door sat open to the staircase heading below.
Natalia looked back to see Albert with a strong arm around Ellen, holding her close. The older woman wiping away another tear while he gave her a reassuring nod. “I’ll see you two soon, I’m sure of it.” Natalia faced forward and headed for the door with heavy steps. Closing the door behind her, she descended the stairs with a heavy heart. I’ve known them for such a short time… I could have spent all night talking to them about their history, such exciting lives they’ve lived. She neared the end of the steps; the distant thunder above grew distant as she descended and yet its dark mood weighted heavier on her. I wonder if that what it is like to have grandparents?
“I’m sorry to interrupt your time, Natalia,” Orsolya said.
Rounding the corner, Natalia saw Orsolya already busy gathering up her pack of supplies. To her right, Alek was rubbing his eyes from having left a deep slumber. “We’re heading out?”
“In a few minutes, get ready,” Orsolya replied.
Natalia looked to the basement door leading out, the tapping of raindrops against it telling her all that she needed to know.
“More rain, fantastic.” Alek said before letting out a long drawn-out yawn.
Natalia looked to her bed, the sheets still a mess from when she left them earlier. The sight of it was a quick reminder to her just how tired she actually was. When I was by myself with you, Revu, I got a ton of sleep even if it was on stone floors at the top of an abandoned building. She rubbed her arm, trying to remember the touch of feathers against her skin.
“We’ll make it through, just another terrible night of travelling, isn’t that right, Natalia?” Orsolya asked.
“That’s right,” Natalia said, still staring at the basement door listening to the raindrops. I miss you so much Revu, it feels like an eternity already.
Crouched in the darkness, Natalia waited for the signal to move. She shivered as a gust of wind blew past her causing rain to splash against her face. Wiping her eyes of the water did little to help her see far into the darkness. A tap on her shoulder and she looked back to see Orsolya motioning for her to move. Standing she made her way down the slick rocks trying her best to find the patches of grass to give herself more evened footing.
A pull on her arm and Natalia ducked out of instinct. A flash of light appeared suddenly, its coned shape piercing into the sky in search of something that was distorted and made ethereal by the heavy downpour. She squinted her eyes trying to find what the light sought out, all she saw were the outlines of heavy clouds. Another tap on her shoulder and she gave up on the search to instead resume slow, careful movements.
Nearing the bottom of the decline she let out a yelp of surprise as a rock gave out beneath her boot, causing her to slide down. Reactively, she extended her hands out and found her balance at the last moment stopping herself from tumbling on past the thin footpath towards a steeper decline. She peered down not seeing the bottom of the hillside. Just how high up are we?
Natalia looked back up to see Orsolya coming near. Leaning forward she extended her hand out for Orsolya to take hold of to slow her descent.
Orsolya nodded in appreciation, words difficult to hear over the raging storm.
Turning, Natalia continued down the thin path, the ground was uneven and twisted further by roots digging in from trees growing in the side of the hill and the growing streams of water sliding down the hill. Just up ahead she spotted Alek who stood underneath a large tree, its shape twisting up at odd angles before vanishing into the night sky.
She reached his side and pressed herself close to the tree finding its solid foundation a comfort in the shifting ground.
“How much further?” Orsolya yelled as she huddled close.
Alek looked out into the night thinking for a moment before answering, “Another kilometer, two at most.”
So at least twenty minutes or more of this torture. Natalia groaned but did not speak up to be heard, instead she simply waited.
Alek looked to either of them, seeing no protest he set off into the dark without another word.
A flash of lightning in the distance lit up their position for a split second. Natalia straightened herself and gave chase after Alek. She saw the light of the watchtower shift to another angle in the sky, its metal shape obscure by trees and the hillside only allowed her to see the top, which appeared almost like the top of a lighthouse, except the domed top was wider to accommodate for a large weapon battery, the barrel pointed up.
Is someone really doing an air attack in this storm? A shift beneath her feet sent a shock of fear through her. Steadying herself she hurried along realizing the outline of Alek’s shape had gotten nearly nonexistent. The path began to widen as it continued its descent, boulders lined the path forcing her to climb up the steep hill on her left to get around some of them. The fog grew thicker, causing the ground to become even more difficult to see. The rhythmic splash of water beneath her boots kept her on edge, the familiar touch of a hard dry floor taken away from her since they began the climb down into the ravine.
A howl that twisted into a high-pitched whistle echoed down from the clouds above. She peered up, eyes blinking as she tried to get a clear view of the source of the disturbing sound that broke the storm’s music. The watchtower’s lights shifted faster in search before settling on a particular spot in the sky. There against the clouds was a thin shape that flashed yellow briefly with the release of a cannon. Her eyes widened at the rapidly descending shot that struck the tower with precise aim. A fiery plume engulfed the tower, metal screeching while debris flew in every which way.
She marveled at the destructive sight of the tower, fires quickly dampened by the rain while the two search lights sparked before falling. A line of electricity where power cables hung flung into the air, the white of electricity whipping around before stopping altogether. Natalia looked up and saw some of the fiery debris heading towards her.
“Natalia, raise a barrier!” Orsolya shouted.
Hands raised, Natalia followed the order in extending the familiar warmth from her fingertips to the space in front and above her. Small jolts of pressure hit against the barrier before going silent, only the beat of rain against the barrier. The fiery debris that had fallen towards them was magically shoved at an odd angle to crash further down the hill.
Releasing the grip on the magic, Natalia looked back to see Orsolya wiping a wet strand of hair from out of her eye.
“Good work,” She said.
“Same to you,” Natalia replied and looked back to the sky in search of the flying object, but she could not make out any shape high above, the water continuing to blur her view.
“Let’s not stick around for it to reappear,” Orsolya said.
With a nod, Natalia resumed down the decline. Where the watchtower stood on a hill above them, now only a smoldering top remained that was quickly becoming obscured by the trees as they descended further down.
Coming to the bottom of the decline, Natalia felt relief in finding a wide section of ground with no sudden drops. Sloshing through the deep puddles on the platform she headed towards Alek who had a foot up on a large boulder, his attention set on the dark just beyond.
He looked back at the sound of their splashing feet and straightened himself.
“How much further down?” Orsolya asked, drawing close to be heard.
“Just past this rock, then we go a-ways until we stop for the night,” Alek said and turned with a wave of his hand urging them to follow him down a gradual decline past the rock.
Standing next to the rock, Natalia looked out and grimaced at the fog that hung all along the ground. I feel like we’re just stumbling through the dark, how often has Alek been through here that he knows the way so well?
A distant crack and boom froze Natalia in her tracks. What was that? She looked over her shoulder to see Orsolya motioning her to keep moving. Hurrying down the decline, Natalia caught up to Alek, her hands itching to reach for her rifle secured on the side of her pack. Another distant howl, its pitch ending in a deep throated gurgle, the sound muffled by a crack of thunder close by. We aren’t at the Scar yet, what could it be?
The path flattened out to a dark plain where water flowed all around their boots, heading toward a rushing stream on their right. A cliff loomed past the stream, its peak blocking the glimpses of the moon that had gotten past the thick clouds. On their left the hill was steep, water flowing down relentlessly. Another howl, closer this time.
“Orsolya?” Natalia asked turning to see the woman looking towards the top of the hill, rifle in hand.
“Keep moving,” She snapped.
With half her attention on the hill she hurried forward. Focusing her attention on the top of the hill, Natalia reached out with her senses, warmth surging through her as she tapped into her magic. A fury of senses threatened to overwhelm her exhausted mind. She released the grip on the magic, her feet stumbling. A scavenger or one of those silvrik? Another flash of lightning lit the area up. The large rocks, twisted leafless trees, and the constant beating of rain created a shifting dark display of horrors.
“This way!” Alek yelled.
Natalia looked to her right to see Alek across the rushing stream waving for her and Orsolya to follow. Running through the stream, Natalia yelped in surprise by the sudden drop to above her ankle, the slick floor nearly taking her off her feet. A tight grip on her arm helped keep her steady as she made the rest of the way across the stream toward a tight path up against the cliff wall.
“Keep going, Alek,” Orsolya said, releasing her grip on Natalia.
“Thank you,” Natalia said, rubbing her arm before following after Alek who was already on the move. She reached a hand out to the rock wall for support while she tried keeping up across the uneven terrain.
“Don’t shoot!” Alek snapped.
Natalia nearly stumbled into Alek who had abruptly come to a stop. Following his finger, he saw Orsolya behind with rifle half raised, a glare in her eyes.
“Why not?” Orsolya asked.
“We don’t need to piss off more of them,” Alek said.
“It’ll alert the others!”
“They already know, we don’t want them angry!” Alek turned to continue down the rocky path starting to decline again.
This just keeps getting worse. Natalia tightened her fists as she hurried after Alek. Another sudden crackle of thunder. The path twisted away toward a sudden decline, Alek dropping down out of sight. Coming to the edge, Natalia peered down to see Alek waiting. Natalia crouched and placed a hand on a large rock sitting at the edge to lower herself to the path below. Once down, she quickly moved out of the way to give space for Orsolya.
Orsolya dropped down with a huff, body shaking with a growing exhaustion. “How much further, Alek?”
“The cave I have in mind is just up ahead,” Alek said.
With a simple nod from Orsolya, the trio continued down the new, tightly-cut path, water splashing under their feet as it rushed past them. Each flash of lightning created a web of shadows to be cast across their path from the rising rocks on either side of them. A few minutes later they turned off onto a wide plateau, now climbing across the waterfalls from the cliff that rose up in front of them. A dark entrance waited for their arrival.
Alek was the first to enter a fire forming in his left hand as soon as he left the rain behind. A screeching howl responded to the light from the deep recesses of the cave.
Hurrying forward, Natalia entered just behind with Orsolya beside her, rifle held but not raised.
“Let it go,” Alek said.
In the depths of the cave, Natalia caught sight of a spine-tail snapping through the air before vanishing, the recognizable sound of claws against stone echoing up to her before starting to drift away. “What was that?”
“How do they already know we’re here?” Orsolya hissed.
Alek tossed the fire towards the center of the cave, its flames lighting up an irregular shaped room with a roof that grew tighter as it went in. An impenetrable darkness lay at the back of the room where the echo of the creature began to vanish away altogether. “Trust me, they do. It’s best we don’t kill any, so they don’t get any angrier at our presence.” Alek moved inside, lowering down to a crouch. He created a second fire and tossed it into the darkness to light up a tunnel heading deeper.
“What do we do about them then?” Orsolya kept her rifle in hand, her grip tightening as she took careful steps towards the fire. “Sit idle while they gather?”
“As long as we are swift and hurt none of them, they won’t have any reason to harm us, I promise.” Alek said.
“Are we talking about scavengers?” Natalia asked, still standing at the entrance of the cave, her heart beating fast from the exertion of travel and the fear of what lay in the darkness.
“No, silvrik,” Alek replied.
Natalia felt a shiver run through her and she turned towards the rain falling just behind her. Still another one out there. She took nervous steps back.
“We should be killing them,” Orsolya said. “Strike fear into them so they aren’t as quick to come near us.”
Alek reached into his pack for a small disk that he threw into the tunnel before turning extinguishing the second flame. “You haven’t been to the Scar in a while, Sol. Since it expanded, the creatures here have grown very defensive. It’s best we go through with as little sound as possible.” Walking towards the first flame, Alek picked it up with his hand and fueled it with more magic before reaching out to distant corners of the room for rocks to come rolling out of the darkness. A circle was quickly formed of rocks, some singed by campfires in the past. “I thought we weren’t in the Scar yet?” Natalia asked.
“We aren’t, nonetheless, the outskirts have begun to house more of the silvrik.” Alek walked towards a corner of the room with a hole in the wall. Reaching in he produced a small log that he tossed towards the circle. He repeated the action for two more logs before using magic to move all three toward the circle to create a bed of wood.
Orsolya sighed and pulled her pack off to place it on the ground along with her rifle. “If you say it’s changed that much since last year, then I’ll take your word for it.”
“That’s what I like about you, Sol. You have a reasonable, cool head.” Alek dropped the fire in his hand onto the pile of wood, finishing the campfire. “Now then, let’s settle down for tonight and enjoy the fire. Once we’re in the thick of the Scar tomorrow we won’t be able to create one.”
Natalia looked back out into the rain in search of the other shadowed creature but saw nothing past the wall of water. We’re not even in the Scar yet and my heart just won’t stop beating. She reached up to rub her chest in discomfort.
“There’s nothing to see, Natalia. Come join us by the fire,” Alek said.
“I know, just… thinking is all.” Natalia turned and went over to the fire to drop her supplies and pull off the raincoat. Sitting, she felt immediate relief wash over her with the intense warmth off the fire. “You’re sure we’ll be safe here?”
Alek pulled free a couple of other disks from his pack. “Yes, I’m going to head out and place the sentries. I already have the one covering the rear of the cave. We’ll be able to sleep easy tonight.”
“As easy as a hard floor can be,” Orsolya said.
“The best we can do though,” Alek said, and he walked back to the entrance.
Natalia watched him go, arms crossed as she rubbed her hands up and down. “Are you sure about this?”
“About entering the Scar. Is there truly no other way around?”
“You saw the map, Natalia.” Orsolya reached out to place a hand on Natalia’s hand, “This is our best option.”
Natalia met Orsolya’s eyes, “I know, it’s just… up in the mountains I always heard rumors about scavengers and how vicious they are. It left me in constant fear and looking over my shoulder.” She stretched out her sore legs and leaned back. “I’m feeling the same with these silvrik. It’s terrible.”
“But you never dealt with one, how do you know it’ll be so bad?”
“I can’t predict it. I know what to expect with Union soldiers… mostly. But a creature in the shadow…”
“You aren’t entirely wrong.” Orsolya reached into her pack for a rolled-up bundle. “Thankfully you have companions this time.”
“I guess you’re right.”
“Now then, let’s eat some of the food that Ellen made for us.”
Natalia laid back, head laying against her pack. “I will soon, I just need a moment…” she stared up at the ceiling lit by the sparks of fire that reached up.
“Okay,” Orsolya murmured and began to unwrap the bundle in silence.
Closing her eyes, Natalia listened to the beat of her heart and tried to think of home and running through the town’s roads with her two close friends, playing all sorts of games while laughing with joy. What would you two think if you saw me now? Here of all places. Why’d I have to be born with magic?