Waking in darkness, Natalia will soon learn of horrors she could never imagine. The Silvrik now have her within their fangs
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.
I have finally put the Scar of Yul behind me. I was not wrong to fear that place. On my final night I saw them, such horrid creatures! Insect-like beasts looked upon me with an emotionless gaze, and only through my magic was I able to scare them off. I later learnt from asking the locals that the creatures were silvrik, a race I had only heard of in passing years ago. I never dreamt of seeing them in person. It is said that they have far greater hives that interact with nations near the equator, however I believe for now I shall avoid further interaction with them. At least until I gather more information to understand whether they are friend or foe to a simple traveler such as I. For now I must choose my next destination and quickly, as it seems my fear of that Union advance company was right. The Glodan plains seem rife with a growing tension. The dead shall surely bury this land soon.
-Baxter Kuluq, Notes of an Explorer
Help me, Father!
Natalia flailed her limbs wildly for something to grab onto. A sensation like walking through a layer of dust met her skin. Layer after layer, she fell through it, her descent slowing. A wave of heat came at her next which was joined by an intense vibration that shook her senses. Which direction was up became lost to her as she spun about, unsure of how to prepare for a landing. She screamed as the vibration kept growing before turning to pain.
She felt a pull and the rush of wind come at her from a different direction. What is happening? She closed her eyes to retreat to her own personal darkness. Stop falling, I need to stop. Am I even falling? She opened her hands and tried to focus on her fingertips through the aching pain pressing on her. I need light, think of a flame. Her brow furrowed as she tried to struggle through, sweat beading on her forehead. Heat. Fire. The pain suddenly erupted along her extended hand causing her to let out a muted shriek and pull back. What was that!?
Waves of magic flowed over her a sensation of cold and heat following with it. The magic is so abundant all of a sudden. She tried her best to grip onto the magic and use it as her own, but only found pain in any attempts to focus on a spell. Am I in a different realm and that is why I can’t use it? When did I even enter it?
Natalia jerked in a different direction, her mind becoming scattered with the movement twisting her about several times. Several more layers of dust caked over her skin. Distant voices echoed around her, the words unintelligible. She cried out again, no words emitting from her lips. The rush of wind moving past her was too great of a force that drowned out everything else.
Abruptly, she came to a halt again. Father, what is happening to me? Guide me, please. She forced her hand into motion trying to focus on her fingertips again. Squeezing her eyes shut, she sought out her heartbeat and found it, listening to the quick beat. With a deep breath she expanded outward again and was quickly met with the pain, more intense than before, like a hot iron being placed upon her bare skin. She tried screaming, to no avail, and pulled her hand back to hug it close against her chest. Where are you, Orsolya? Help me.
The voices echoed around her again.
What is that? She tried to reach out to the voices with her senses, calming her own as best she could against the constant pain. The hot iron easing back giving her a moment of clarity to find her composure. Relax, I need to relax. Her senses urged her to struggle against the darkness, but with a deep breath and the knowledge that she was not falling to her death anymore she forced her will and body to relax.
The words began to come in clearer. “Help it? kill it?” A resonating click followed each word.
“Thoughts… we must think carefully.” Another voice, smooth like two strips of fine sandpaper rubbing together, said the words.
“Think? We always think. How long must we think?” a hollowed third voice chimed in like a whisper. “It walks in our territory.”
“Our territory!” the first voice clicked.
It? They’re talking about me, aren’t they?
“Why? … Why is it here?” the second voice asked.
“It is evil,” the first voice said.
“It embodies the blood!” The clicking voice was followed by a heavy thud.
A heavy impact hit her a moment later, causing the voices to become distorted. Squeezing her eyes tighter, she renewed her focus on them.
“…Is right, it is imbued with the twisted blood,” the third voice chimed.
“We shall decide soon,” the second voice replied.
“It listens!” the first clicked.
Yellow eyes appeared all around her, blinking with curiosity. What is happening?
“It knows! We must end it.” The third voice seethed.
“And the repercussions?” the second voice asked.
Don’t end me! I’m harmless! She tried to call out, lips moving but no words came out. The touch of heat against her skin caused the yellow eyes to blink out of view along with her clarity. She took a deep breath, trying to regain her composure through her growing fear.
“A curious suggestion,” the second said.
“Release it then?” the first clicked.
What suggestion? They’re releasing me?
“No, leave it as is. We have dirtied our touch enough with its presence,” the second said.
The pitch darkness began to fade away from all around her, a light growing above. What’s happening? A tight constricting hold on her limbs alerted her senses.
The third voice whispered final words that trailed away into the air, “Leave her to the Devoid.”
Natalia blinked her eyes several times trying to clear her vision. I’m back in the physical realm then? Looking up she saw a thin hole to the cloudy sky, enough light coming down to reflect off the water below her, which helped illuminate the cavern walls. She hung suspended in the air by white webbing that clung across much of her body. The heaviest binding of webbing was wrapped around her arms and extended to the surrounding walls, and her legs were bound together with webs going up to a rocky fragment of the now broken boulder. The fragment extended the width of the hole, still covered in large vines which stabilized it. More webbing wrapped her from behind, interconnecting with the other parts to create a bed for her. Looking down the length of her body, she saw her belt missing along with her pack and rifle. She could just barely turn her head enough to see the water below her, bright and crystal clear to reveal the remnants of the boulder, its vines and crystals now floating along the surface. She tried to crane her neck further to get a better view but was pulled back by the sticky threads in her brown hair. The circular room all around her had multitudes of dark holes, a distant chittering and clicking noise emitted from several of them.
She craned her neck again to look down her body and saw past her feet to see four pairs of yellow eyes studying her from the dark depths of a hole. “What are you?” she whispered. Surprised by the fear in her voice, she cleared her voice and asked again, “What are you?” She continued to stare but received no response. A giant spider is surely what it’d say. Was it one of the voices though? It has to be, why else am I not dead? Natalia laid her head back and closed her eyes trying to recall the conversation in that distorted black world. The Devoid? Whatever it is, I need to get out of here. She began to pull on her restraints to test them, finding each limb wrapped tight by the webbing. What can I do? Fire? I’d set myself on fire then. Rip the webs from the foundation along the rocks? Then I’d fall into the water and drown. I could use magic on my observer, though… I have a feeling that’d be a bad idea. What about a gust of wind? No, it’d take too much magic. She began to squirm and wriggle in her bindings trying to loosen either of her arms. “Come on!” she growled in protest at the webbing.
The echo of the clicking noises grew from the holes below her.
She turned her head but saw nothing. Something is coming. Struggling a few more times, she found the webbing still stuck around her fingers with no sign of giving way. Something… something has to work. Ice? I could freeze the webbing!
Closing her eyes, she focused on her fingertips, mind drifting to the Bosakil mountain range, walking through the mountains of snow with Revu in the endless white void. The familiar warmth of magic flowing through became intermixed with a growing cold, her own body temperature starting to drop. The paradox of temperatures sent shivers through her as beads of sweat began to form on her skin. The stickiness of the webbing along her arms began to harden, expanding to behind her back.
She opened her eyes and gasped for air to try to regain her composure. The waves of cold and heat starting to dissipate to be replaced by an overbearing icy touch against her arms. Natalia looked over and saw the webs closes to either of her arms now covered in a thin layer of ice. Now what? She shook her arms and several strings detached from the icy casing she had created. Shaking her arms again, even more threads detached, “Woah!” She gasped at the sudden lurch. The glimpse of water below her came into view as her eyes widened. Maybe ice wasn’t the best idea. She looked towards the yellow eyes still only staring. There has to be another answer. Natalia tried looking around before more threads suddenly snapped. She yelped in surprise as she swung down then up, before going back and forth, webs still attached around her legs to the rocky bridge above. “Definitely a bad idea,” she muttered as she swung over the water, arms still encased in frozen webs were now growing numb.
The distant clicking noise grew closer, the noise sending little vibrations through the rock and down the web to her.
“I’m surely running out of time…” She groaned and looked up at the faint hint of light of the outside high above. Where are you, Alek and Orsolya? I could really use rescuing. Natalia looked at her arms, the webbing now encased by the ice. Heat it up? Better then freezing any longer. She closed her eyes and focused on her arms again. Cold then hot, cold then hot… How am I escaping when I’m using so much blood just to escape this web? Squeezing her eyes tighter she thought of a hot fire, the flames burning bright and close to her. Warmth surged through her, the numbness quickly burning away.
Natalia opened her eyes and saw the webbing slipping off with the droplets of water. What webbing remained she easily shook off. A rush of heat hit her, and she rubbed her forehead in discomfort. I need to get out of here… what next, same trick with my legs? No. Then I’d drop with icy boots, I doubt I could focus long enough to loosen them and swim up. She looked toward the surrounding wall, then at the web clinging around her legs. The web is definitely not long enough for me to swing towards the walls. She pinched her nose and took a deep breath before looking back down to instead scan the water’s edge in search of anything that could be of use to her. Webs covered much of the ground, with large bunches of the white stuff forming around bundles, the webs hiding what was within. She perked up at the sight of her pack, rifle, and belt sitting in a corner. I can’t believe everything is right there. She reached her hand out and was about to extend her magic out before pausing. No, there has to be a better way to get my rifle. It’d cost too much magic.
She heard a subtle hiss from above. She turned her head towards the hiss to see from the shadows of another hole a single large eye with multitudes of facets across its surface watching her. A click drew her attention to another hole where she saw two pairs of yellow eyes in a horizontal line. The other two voices in that strange dream? Must be, but why do all three of them just watch? She looked up to the original four pairs of eyes and spotted a long vine hanging from the rock fragment. It must have gotten loose when I was swinging. She reached her hand out for it and focused on the tip of it to pull on it. Maybe, if it’s just long enough… All her senses focused in on the green vine, urging it towards her extended hand. A pressure around its surface formed like an invisible hand. The connection made her heart flutter and she quickly pulled her hand back motioning it closer to her. The vine unraveled several feet from the rock, shaking off pebbles and leaves.
With the vine in reach, she released her magical grip and took hold of it. She lifted her head up and hugged the vine as a sort of safety net while a lightheaded feeling washed over her. “Finally… not upside down…” she gasped and looked up the length of the vine. Time to climb. With a deep breath, she reached up with her left hand then her right, slowly pulling her body up the vine.
The vibrations traveling down the web and now the vine began to shake and tremble as the noise came closer.
I need to hurry. Her face flushed from the climb and the muscles in her arm strained.
The skittering noise came to an abrupt halt as an eerie silence took over the room.
She paused to look below her, and her eyes widened at the sight of long black, pointed legs stretching out from several holes all around the water’s edge. The vine creaked and stretched and suddenly gave out, dropping her a couple of feet. She yelped in surprise. Squeezing the vine, she realized she was still hanging not far from the boulder, as out of the corner of her eyes, she saw the black creatures were beginning to climb along the wall. I need to move! She looked up and put all her focus on finishing the climb, the fear of what was climbing all around her aching for her undivided attention.
Reaching the top, she stretched her hands out and found a crevice to grip with her fingers and pull her weight over the edge. One hurdle after another and I’m surely about to run out of time now. She took several deep breaths before turning over to her back and looked down at her legs, still stuck together. This is surely it; I’m still stuck. She looked to the pack along her belt. Not even the blood vial could save me here, I’m surrounded. She closed her eyes, her heartbeat racing as a growing fear crept in. No, I need to escape. Else, I’ll never see you again, Mama. A surge of warm comfort of home washed through her.
She turned her attention to her legs, focusing on the flow of her blood all the way down to her toes. Her mind drifted back to the mountains once more, the cold touch quickly returning now that she had practice casting the spell. Another surge of strength flowed through her; her heart began to race with the magic as it threatened to overpower her senses. This isn’t my blood magic, it’s so powerful! As she focused on her magic, she felt a crushing pressure all around her. Her urge to push away the foreign power grew before she remembered what her companions had said upon entering the valley. With a deep breath she let go, allowing the pressure to wash over her. The initial heat was intense, but it quickly calmed, allowing her to find the string to pull on. She wove the spell of cold before abruptly casting it toward a strong heat. Her heart skipped a beat, and she felt an urge to let go. Tightening on the flow she turned her mind to her mother, envisioning her and wanting desperately to escape to reach her. Her heart calmed as the flow of magic slowed then faded altogether, the danger of it going with it.
Natalia slowly opened her eyes to see her pants and boots covered in water, the webbing loosened, wet, and even singed black in some places. It worked, but that magic… She sat up and saw a hint of a glow along the vines and leaves all around her. “The floating boulder…”
A growing hiss in the room echoed all around her.
She looked all around, expecting the black creatures from before to be on top of her, but instead the same yellow eyes from the three holes stared at her. The room was much darker than before. All around the walls, blue crystals of various shapes and sizes were starting to come to life, giving off a gentle glow that was strengthened by the water’s reflection below. She looked up expecting to see the moon, but instead saw only pitch black. The hole is entirely covered now? But how?
The hiss was joined by several clicks and chattering noise.
Closing her eyes, Natalia tried to focus on the noises just like in the dream, but none of them were intelligible. I must have been tied to them with magic in that place. She looked over the edge of the platform and saw the same bed of webbing below, her belongings still lay in waiting.
The noisy chatter all around her ended abruptly.
She stood up and looked back to each cave, the yellow eyes gone. “What the… where did they go?” Natalia turned around and around on the rock, seeing no sign of life around her. Walking slowly towards one end of the rocky bridge she reached out for one of the blue crystals, the warm, jagged touch gave her pause. Taking a grip of it, she pulled the crystal free, pinpricks pressing against her glove threatening to pierce through the fabric. “So sharp…” She mumbled, loosening her grip then kneeling beside the hole with one of the yellow eyed creatures from before. Met with darkness, she tossed the crystal in, but the light of the crystal gave her no clearer view of anything ever having been there. They really are gone, but why so suddenly?
Standing back up, Natalia looked all around again straining to hear anything. I’m alone. She looked down towards her belongings below. I guess first things first… then I have to somehow rejoin the others. She rubbed at her heart, trying to rid herself of a growing pressure. Just focus on the step at hand. She extended her foot and hand out to the wall finding a place to support her weight and began her climb down. Just focus on the step at hand… That’s easy enough… right?
A section of the wall gave out and she slid the rest of the way down to land with a thud beside her pack. “Ow…” she groaned, rubbing her left shoulder where she had landed. Rotating her arm a few times and finding nothing broken, she returned her attention to her pack and opened it to find all her belongings still in place. “Those things didn’t mess with anything, that’s good…” she whispered to herself, then looked all around. The bundles of webbing up close revealed body parts in different states of decomposition. Her heart sank further as she saw more of the webbing extending along the three holes around the water’s edge going into the dark depths beyond. “Alek, Orsolya, where are you two?” Natalia looked back up and saw the dark ceiling still, then back down to the three holes. This step isn’t going to be easy at all… She pulled her pack close in a hug. I’m all alone.