What secrets are held within the Scar of Yul? The gamayuns have entered it and it is where Natalia will see her first glimpse into how beautiful magic can get as well as how twisted it can become.
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.
My initial interactions with the citizens of the Yenvark Union left me disturbed. Their religious zeal for their God and Goddess was unpleasant. To make matters worse, their pastors tried on several occasions to recruit me into their work force. A promise of food and shelter would work on most, but I saw through the veil at the forced labor which fed the armies of the Union. I quickly fled south to avoid any attempts on forcing me into such a cruel life. I set my eyes on the Scar of Yul as a chance to escape and rest within the comfort of magic. There I was witnessed to many magical elements, though they paled in comparison to the land surrounding the Primordial Tower. But the hostility I felt was something else… As if I was being watched the entire time I was there. I dared not leave the comfort and light of my fire at night.
-Baxter Kuluq, Notes of an Explorer
Moss grew across much of the boulder with flowers blooming outward wherever a crack had formed along the surface. Small green spark bees fluttered from flower to flower with a purpose. Vines extended out from the boulder to the cliff on either side that rose to form the walls of the Scar. Held in place by the vines, the boulder floated a few meters above them, acting almost like a welcome sign to the strange oddities they were to witness in the waiting valley beyond.
Natalia stared with mouth agape at the floating boulder, eyes frozen open as she tried to speak, but could not muster up any words to say that would make sense.
“It’s a bit odd, but you’ll get used to it.” Orsolya smiled and patted Natalia on the shoulder before stepping forward with Alek besides her. “Come on, we have a little more ground to cover and can’t waste it staring.”
She rubbed her eyes and blinked a few times before looking back up. “I…” Natalia shook her head violently before staring up again. “How?” She looked down and saw the other two were down the path out of earshot. Keeping an eye on the boulder above her, Natalia quickly hurried along. The warmth she had felt when they set off down the path leading into the Scar that morning seemed stronger, as if pressing at her from every angle. It was a constant pressure that was soothing to her senses and gave her an eager step as she caught up to the other two. “I, still don’t…” she said, unsure how to continue.
“Magic when concentrated can create many wonders, Natalia,” Alek said and pointed out another floating boulder, much smaller than the last. “In places like this where magic is flowing freely, the laws of nature can be twisted and distorted.”
“But why would it become distorted?” Natalia asked, eyes locked to the second boulder, admiring an upside-down red stripe butterfly on a blue flower growing along the bottom of the boulder. Awed by the view, she nearly tripped on a crack in the ground. She looked down and saw a large, dark gray spider scurry into a hole away from her. A shiver ran up her spine as she hurried past the hole.
“It can become distorted for many reasons, but a common one is the interference that we mortals cause. The great Yul created this place with his destructive spell and now the constant battles in this area have further shaped this place. The explosive artillery shells raining day and night shook the ground so much that it has begun to split more.” Alek stopped to run a hand across a growth of moss running up the right side of the rocky wall, flowers growing all along the green with vibrant colors. “It’s this shaping that can create such beauty and, in its shadows, brings forth the silvrik.”
“What are you doing?” Natalia asked, stopping to watch Alek.
Orsolya came to a halt as well and turned to watch Alek. “We should focus on moving instead of admiring the scenery, Alek.”
Alek plucked an orange flower and began to twirl it between his index finger and thumb. “It’s by admiring what’s around us that we can learn and adapt.”
“Of course, but we need to cover as much ground as possible. You should know that…” Orsolya said.
“I do know, just merely grabbing a souvenir, let’s continue,” Alek said, placing the flower into a pocket for safekeeping.
“I was wondering, why did the academy never mention the silvrik?” Natalia asked.
“Because the silvrik rarely show themselves, always in the shadows picking at the remains left behind by others. The majority of Derdainians will never see one,” Alek replied, leading the way to a fork in the road, which he took a turn without pause.
“But surely they attack and defend their land, right?” Natalia glanced down the other path, just as rocky and vibrant with magical oddities as the path that Alek had taken. How often has he been here?
Alek reached out to another flower bed along the wall to pluck another flower. “It has happened, yes.”
“Often?” Natalia felt a shiver as she looked to either side searching for any dark holes that could hide a monster.
“Not often at all.” Orsolya laughed at Natalia.
Alek glanced back at Natalia to give her a smile. “It’s very rare, from the reports I’ve read, usually they are provoked.” Alek swept his hand in the air to turn the focus on the surroundings. “You ask though because we’re in their territory now. I’m confident we’ll be safe. As long as we do not linger, they won’t have the time to gather and gain the confidence to approach us.”
“As it will hopefully remain,” Orsolya muttered.
They came to another fork in the road, Alek taking the path to the left. Beds of vibrant green grass moved with their passing. Small lizards with bright red fins scurried out of the way. “It will; I crossed through here just a few months back and besides a few encounters, it went smoothly,” Alek said.
“A few encounters?” Natalia asked.
“Yes, just had to fire a warning shot to make my point to an over-curious silvrik.”
“A warning shot?” Orsolya came to a halt and rested her hand on the handle of her pistol. “Now you’re starting to make me nervous about those disgusting things.”
“No need to, I clearly made it through safe and sound!”
Natalia listened to both of them and noticed the echo of their voices with the walls. Closing her eyes, she tapped into the warmth surrounding her in search of the strange touch of the silvrik she had felt last night, but only found a silent assault now suddenly loud against her senses. Rubbing her forehead, she blinked her eyes a few times and looked to them, “We’re so loud, shouldn’t we be quieter?”
Alek shook his head, “Territory or not, they are mostly active at night. As it is, I’ve felt none in the area.”
“How can you feel anything with this pressure?” Natalia asked.
“Ah, right.” Orsolya looked to Natalia with a nod. “You aren’t familiar with such magically rich areas, right?”
“No, I’m not, and I can’t believe you two can sense anything at all.”
“Yes, it takes practice, but it’s doable,” Alek replied and turned to continue down the path.
“What exactly do I have to do differently?” Natalia asked.
“Well, when you usually reach out you are looking for a magical touch of the living in a void of nothing. In a place like this, it is the opposite.” Orsolya swung her arm through the air to mimic a wave. “Imagine you are in a sea and now you are looking for what flows against the current.”
“A living thing would be different?”
“Yes, though as expected, it is difficult. While searching you have to be constantly treading the water to keep your senses afloat. To make matters worse, a living soul who is trying to hide from you and is skilled enough can go with the flow of magic to stay hidden.”
“How would you even do that?”
“No different than floating with the current and letting it take you. Just empty your mind.”
Natalia paused in walking to close her eyes and reach out with her senses. The same pressure from before met her like a thick wall of miasma. It’s all a magical field of sorts, how am I supposed to find anything in it? It’s so thick with noise. She rubbed her arms in discomfort and blinked her eyes a few times.
“Anything?” Alek asked.
“It’s just a blanket of noise,” Natalia replied.
“Try to focus on the wildlife around you, you’ll eventually get it with enough practice.” Orsolya said and turned to Alek, “Which way?”
Alek motioned to the left.
Still rubbing her arms, Natalia followed her two companions down the stony path.
Grass pockmarked by flowers became more frequent in breaking through the stones. Dirt and sand from high above the cliff walls now lay on the floor, creating a bed for more flowers to blossom. Large clumps of dirt held muddy puddles from the recent nightly showers of cold rain. Wherever there was no dirt to catch the water, it slipped between the stones.
More of the floating rocks occasionally dotted their journey, vines extending out in every which way. An array of insects and reptiles crawled along the vines as a highway to various places along the high cliff walls. Small stones floating higher up had twigs sticking out from holes to create a nest for red tailed sparrows that sat perched, eyes dotting around looking for easy prey they could dash to before returning to their nest.
The path opened up giving more directions to take, many of which quickly came to a dead end. The confusion and complexity of the ravine furthering as they went on. Alek easily took each and every turn with established knowledge, never doubting his actions. Spiders with nests built into stony cracks scurried out of the way with swift legs, fangs twitching at the disturbance. Small crabs ran between their feet, using the opportunity to run to new hunting grounds on the other side of the path while the spiders were scared off.
Coming around a bend in the path, Natalia was awed by a split waterfall. High above the ground was still mostly covered up by the surface except for two holes where water fell in a cascading path down the uneven walls before joining together as a single mass of water to vanish down a black hole to caverns beneath her feet. Peering down the hole, Natalia caught a glimpse of a shadowy form of a fish swimming before vanishing from her view.
She closed her eyes focusing on the roaring sound of the falling water. With a deep breath, she savored the cool, misty smell for a while longer before returning to reality. She spotted the other two pulling further ahead, and with a quick step she went after them. The thumping of her boots on the stone floor echoing all along the walls before the ceiling opened back up to the cloudy sky. A rumble of distant thunder promised more rain with the onset of evening soon. The sunlight from the descending sun was having a harder time to pierce into the tight ravine.
“We’ll be stopping soon; I have a cave in mind for our camp,” Alek said.
“Is the cave going to have another silvrik in it like last night?” Orsolya asked.
“If it does, you better not think of shooting it.”
“No promises,” Orsolya teased.
Alek came to a stop before a tight section of the path. “On that note, I should point out that the next section is a common place to see the occasional silvrik.”
“Are you suggesting that I’m going to actually shoot it after you told me not to last night?”
“I’m just making sure,” Alek replied.
“It was a joke.”
“Can’t one of you sense if there is one?” Natalia asked.
“I don’t sense any, but that does not mean one is using the high concentration of magic up ahead to hide.”
“Even higher concentration?” Natalia squinted her eyes as she tried to peer down the tight passage in search of anything to give away magic, but only saw a twisting tunnel of gray, dull rock. Reaching out though she quickly felt the heavy pressure only seemingly stronger now.
“Yes, and even as skilled as Sol and I are, it becomes difficult to decipher the waves coming off such a strong source of magic.”
“Then why would we go this way then?” Natalia asked.
Orsolya crossed her arms. “I have the same feeling. Did we take a wrong turn, Alek? Or did you really want to head this way?”
With a wag of his finger, Alek turned back to the tight hall of rock. “No, this is the right way.”
“It’s going deeper into the scar,” Orsolya said.
“We’re skirting the deepest parts; you don’t have to worry about anything.” Alek glanced back. “This is the fastest way, trust me.”
“Just get on with it; you always get your way you stubborn fool,” Orsolya grumbled.
Alek began the walk through the tight passage, hands extended out to help with balance due to the uneven terrain. “I knew you’d come around to my idea, now let’s get through this. Plenty of space to move up ahead.”
“Is there really no other way?” Natalia asked, fear crept in her voice.
“There are a bunch of ways through this labyrinth, it’s just this cocky fool who’s put us on this dangerous path.” Orsolya looked back to Natalia and gave a reassuring smile. “I’m sure we’ll make it through fine though.” Without waiting on a reply, Orsolya began to follow Alek.
Natalia glanced back on the path they had come from. Seeing nothing, she looked ahead and closed her eyes to reach out with her senses. The same endless pressure welcomed her. We’ll make it through fine and yet this is the dangerous path… Her brow furrowed as she tried desperately to break through the invisible pressure until finally opening up again with an exasperated sigh. And I can’t feel anything around me. She looked up to the distant cliff tops. I’d rather deal with a Union patrol right now. A distant rock falling down the cliff sent a shiver through her. Looking back, she saw nothing and without waiting any longer she hurried into the tight path.
“You’re right. there is one,” Orsolya spat.
“Really?” Natalia tried to see down the path, but only saw Orsolya’s back. Squeezing through the passage, Natalia stumbled out onto a rocky outcropping and looked out to see a glimpse of a long, spiny tail vanishing behind a distant wall.
“And there it goes,” Orsolya said.
“A good sign that they still have no intention of attacking us,” Alek said.
Natalia stepped toward the edge of the outcropping to get a clear view of the space that laid out before her. Trees rose, with branches extending toward the large boulder that floated at the center. Clear crystals growing along the boulder reflected the setting sun’s light to give off a variety of colorful hues. The reflected light bounced off the stream that ran down the center, giving a bright glow to the area. Beds of flowers ran the perimeter of the wide area, healthy grass filling in any gap between the variety of plants. The serenity was only disturbed by the uncharacteristically high cliff walls.
“I still am having a hard time believing that we are just passing through with no problems. I’m so used to shooting those creatures on sight,” Orsolya said.
“Well like anything, once you learn enough about it you realize you may have to change how you deal with it.” Alek turned to head down the side of the rocky platform towards the garden waiting for them.
“Well, they are animals, so we already have a basis of how to act with them,” Orsolya replied.
“They are smarter than the basic instincts of animals.”
“Is that so?” Orsolya asked.
“Shouldn’t we now be quiet?” Natalia said, following the other two at a slower pace.
“It already ran off; we’re safe for now.” Alek ran a hand along a tree he passed, his attention turning to the boulder floating above.
“How can you know?” Natalia stepped closer to stare up at the boulder. Her eyes widening at the sparkle that was sent off from the crystals along the slowly shifting boulder.
“It is easier to spot someone from within a bush, then it is to spot someone hiding in a bush,” Alek stated.
“It’s getting dark soon, we need to find this cave already, Alek,” Orsolya said.
“Yes, sorry. I just can’t help but take my time through this place,” Alek said and marched on past the center of the clearing to head towards a corner of the garden.
“Why can’t we just make camp here? It’d be nice to sleep on something soft.” Natalia reached down to touch the green grass and quickly straightened herself. Widening her hand, she saw a sticky webbing between her fingers.
“You answered your own question,” Orsolya said with a laugh at the disgusted look on Natalia’s face.
“What is this stuff?” Natalia said wiping her sticky hands on her pants.
“Residue from one of those creatures,” Orsolya replied and placed a hand on Natalia’s shoulder to hurry her along in Alek’s direction. “Like Alek said, this is a common place for them. I’m not a huge fan of being passive around them, but we don’t need to intentionally sit out in the open and ask for a fight.”
“You’re right about that,” Natalia said while she continued to be rid of the stickiness. Heading up a slight incline, Natalia saw Alek, who motioned down another tight passage before he vanished down it. “These caves of his always seem to be further than he implies.”
“Alek is great in a lot of things, but a sense of time and how long it takes to do something is not his strong point,” Orsolya said and walked up to the entrance. “Let’s go, best we keep moving before the sun finishes setting.”
Natalia nodded her head and walked up to the entrance. Stopping, she glanced back at the spacious garden, admiring the glints and sparkles of light dancing along the walls and surface of the flowing stream. Darkness was claiming the corners, as the remaining rays of light began to disappear. I did not expect to find such beauty in a place like this. Is Alek right about the silvrik not being so dangerous? But, based on how Orsolya talks… She felt a shiver run through her and turned to head down the passage. I’d rather just get out of this place. She rubbed the warm tingling along her arms at the invisible pressure. I never thought I’d hate the touch of magic.