Perpetual War Arc Three: Chapter Sixteen – Depths of Yul

In the dark depths, Natalia now wanders on edge of the unknown surrounding her. How far do the caves go and what lays at the end? The Silvrik know all that moves in their domain.

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The currents of magic flowing through Coronam have been torn and ripped by this war. In the heart of the Scar of Yul, one such rip is visible. Literal magic flows up from the ground to escape into the air like an open vein spilling forth its blood. This should concern all. Yet it seems the war continues all around it. It is through the actions of the silvrik thaumaturge experts who are close to the heart of Coronam that this particular wound will eventually be closed, but the physical damage to the land will take centuries to truly heal. This visible lesson has still failed to reach every nation’s magical users. There are many similar cases all around the planet, and most of them have gone ignored. It is only a matter of time before the world as we know it begins to splinter with no magic left to hold it together.

-Medya, The Two Thoughts of Magic

Dim blue crystals lay scattered along the path, the space between a black void. In those spots of light, the horrors of what lay in the dark was on display. An assortment of bodies from different races lay entrapped by a white webbing, runes crafted in the blood stains of victims for an unknown purpose and a variety of grotesque pale insects slithering from tiny hole to hole. Thin rivulets of water flowed down the walls and into cracks to unseen places below, creating a rhythmic sound that provided little solace in the tunnel of stone. The smell of the decaying was muted by the clean water.

Natalia’s steps were slowed in the lit patches, taking comfort in the blue light. The revolver in her left hand was half raised and at the ready to be fired. In her free hand she carried a blue stone, the glow slowly dimming as she went. She took a deep breath each time she stepped into a dark patch, expecting at any moment for the stone to give out and leave her stranded. Her steps quickened as she made her way to the next blue light in the distance. Upon reaching the next patch, she slowed once more, a temporary sigh of relief washing over her before the realization that there was more darkness to pass through.

She dropped the dim stone and sought out another piece to cut free from its growing patch. Finding a fragment that would be easy to break off, she knelt and pulled free her knife, using the tip to loosen the stone. Jamming the dulling blade in, she worked as swiftly as possible while looking over her shoulder constantly. With a fresh stone in hand, she hurried along into the next void, the timer until the stone died begun anew.

A skitter of movement out of the corner of her eye. She turned with revolver raised but neither saw nor heard anything else. Holding her position for a few seconds longer, Natalia lowered her revolver and continued. More than a dozen meters away, she saw the next patch of blue crystals growing around a thin stream of water. The fear of tripping kept her from going into a mad sprint for the safety of the light. Boots connected with solid rock. Her mind drifted to the endless possibilities that were sure to happen as she passed through the dark, her breath held, waiting expectantly for something terrible to happen. For her boot to land on open air and she fall to her death, or one of the creatures to pounce upon her and claw her to death, or the webbings to encircle her and she be trapped again destined to have her life sucked out of her. The numerous scenarios only urged her on.

She let out a small yelp of surprise when her boot bumped into something. After a quick step back, Natalia lowered the crystal and saw the bump was nothing more than a large rock. Stepping around she kept going, the minor relief at seeing the rock quickly lost to the constant threat pressuring her from every side.

How much further?

Natalia passed over the stream and continued to the next distant blue sparkle. The echo of her footsteps and rhythmic breathing echoed in the tight tunnel. The crystal in her hand gave her a glimpse of the tight confines of the dark walls surrounding her, which left her with a tightness in her throat and a fast beat in her heart. Sweat beaded on her forehead as the urge to cry out for release grew. Thoughts of discarding the stone to rid her of the sight of just how little room she had to move fluttered in her mind. In the darkness she was ignorant of the limited space. The endless void was a comfort.

She shook her head and wiped the sleeve of her coat across her forehead. Stay focused, Natalia.

The blue glow in hand cast shadows where the wall came to an end, giving her a glimpse to other passages, all of which led into nothing. Only the path ahead had a patch of blue crystals urging her closer.

Am I getting any closer to the surface?

Reaching the next patch, she knelt beside the group of crystals. She discarded the one in her hand off to the side, its glow diminishing with the departure of small sparkles of light and an oozing liquid from its base.

She unsheathed the knife and began to work on loosening another shard. The blade slipped to the side several times as she found it difficult to jam the point in. It’s dulling too fast. Just my luck. Finding a crevice in the crystal, she banged the bottom of the knife with her free hand. Each bang of her hand expanded the crack through the crystal until a large enough shard popped off. Sheathing the knife, she scooped the shard up and hurried along, the clock starting over. The number of times she had repeated the process was long lost in her mind.

Her body ached, however not once did she consider stopping. The fear of what moved in the dark kept her on edge with defenses always raised. Sitting down to rest could give what moved in the dark confidence to approach her, something she wanted to avoid. The grip on her revolver was firm as she raised it in the direction of a pebble skipping across the ground. Seeing nothing, she continued, passing by a patch of blue with her eyes set on the next.

The flow of magic that permeated throughout the scar’s surface above seemed muted in places and stronger in others. The pattern was impossible to read as currents came and went. It was in the currents though that she felt her heart flutter as she slowed in her walk to eagerly reach out; eyes half closed. The moments were brief and left her disappointed. Her own energy and will to keep going were desperate for an external element to boost her up as the constant fear made her heart ache more as the time slipped by.

Natalia came to another patch of blue. The task to cut another shard came naturally now, though it was more difficult with her knife growing duller. The shard from before lay by her feet, its color washing away before it was left as nothing more than a gray hollow of its former self.

 Standing, Natalia looked at the path ahead with a sense of dread.

It’s going down? Do I turn around and find another path? What do I do?

In the dim light she saw the stony path wind down at a gradual pace before turning out of sight. She glanced back, just in time to see something move in the light of a previous light patch, practically a haze in the distance.

What choice do I have?

With a weak nod of acknowledgment at her dismal plight she trudged on. The downward path brought a small break to her aching muscles, a thin silver lining in the sea of dismay that clouded her mind.

Rounding the corner, she was greeted by another patch of crystals, much sooner then she had expected. She had a thought to crouch down to cut another piece but the crystal she held was still bright enough, the dulling knife would surely be more useful at a later patch. She marched past, the path continuing down toward another corner that she rounded. The webbing along her path began to lessen before vanishing altogether, in its place more trickling streams of water flowed beside her. The blue crystals began to come sooner, the endless darkness interrupted more and more.

She welcomed the glow before more skittering heightened her fear and she turned to point her revolver into nothingness. In the growing light, the multitudes of holes and crevices into the darkness grew. Natalia continued, her focus pulled to either side constantly as she spotted another passageway here or there that could hide a threat waiting to pounce on her.

Each intersection she crossed, she peered down the other pathways. Some climbed up, which made her consider turning, however she realized the walls tightened which gave her pause. Natalia looked back upon the main path, wider than the others. With a shake of her head, she continued, turning over and over in her mind on why she did not stray from the main path especially now that it was seemingly descending further.

The crystals were numerous now, the shard in her hand, now devoid of color was dropped and forgotten. Her free hand tightened into a fist before loosening again as she ached for this invisible threat to jump her so she could strike it down with a quick spell of magic. The thought of power over the danger grew with the light before another skitter of movement in a side passageway quickly sucked out any confidence she had built up.

Along the path, the thin streams of water became more numerous. Water from small stalactites overhead dripped down on her as she passed. The path began to widen ever so slowly, revealing groups of stalagmites along the edges, some even reaching up to form pillars of calcium and salt with the stalactites. Several pillars lay crushed along the floor, bite marks visible all along the surface. She knelt and ran a finger along the markings before peering over her shoulder at another skitter of movement.

The path turned then once more as it began a more sudden drop. Rocky steps provided her safe footing as she went down. Large crystals, some of which rose up to her knees, helped guide her in the descent.

Down and down, I go.

She tightly squeezed her arm holding the revolver. More skittering sounds, a pair or more moving together now. She could not keep track of the movements that seemed to grow more numerous around her. The large crystals that lit the widening stone hall gave it a deep royal blue glow. She found little solace in the space as every dark hole and crevice was a threat that pierced into her mind of endless possible dangers.

Am I to die here?

She came to the bottom of another set of rocky steps to find her boots partially submerged in flowing water. In the glow, the water was clear and flowing quickly now as if urging her on. A flutter of magic made her heart skip a beat. Natalia gave in to the calling and went ahead. The constant dread that surrounded her was drowned out by the pull of the clean water. Its smell, rich with minerals, seemed to clear the ill thoughts that plagued her mind.

The music of water falling and dripping ahead was a beautiful noise, soothing her further. Around another corner she went a short distance, eyes focused on her footing as the waterfall grew ever closer, until, abruptly, she had come to it. A short drop down, she stood at the edge and looked up to see the tunnel widen out.

Stepping down the ledge she moved to the side where a large rock outcropping was raised above the water. Her eyes widened as she looked all around, idly walking up the outcropping as she took it all in.

The room was massive with stalactites all along the ceiling dripping water in a near constant shower to the subterranean lake that lay below her. Crystals grew along the edges of any rocks that rose above the surface and the coastline of distant tunnels that led into the room. Waterfalls spilled down from levels above her to floors below before all spilling into the lake which extended beyond her sight into the darkness on the far side of the room.

She looked into the darkness at the lakes edge where crystals ceased growing, trying to find the edge. Thoughts of what could lay beneath the surface sent a shiver through her. Natalia turned her attention to her flanks, looking at the neighboring tunnels.

Where do I go now?

A loud garbled groan drew her attention to the lake below. Walking toward the water’s edge of the platform she stood on gave her an angle to a wide outcropping in the middle of the lake, which she only saw the edge of before. At the center lay a large dark shape; its heavy carapace gave off a reflection created by both the droplets along the carapace and the surrounding water flowing around the small island of stone covered much of its body. A green ooze seeped out from gaps in the carapace to slide down to the stone and flow toward the lake before dissipating in the water.

What is that thing? Is that blood?

Her grip tightened on the revolver.

A low hiss echoed from another corner of the room.

She looked in the direction of the hiss to see the mutli-faceted single yellow eye in a dark corner.

Another hiss in the opposite direction drew her attention and she saw the pair of horizontal eyes stacked on top of one another.

They return, but why here? She holstered her revolver and began to reach for her rifle when movement down on the island caught her attention.

The black carapace shifted, plates moving over one another. A single bright green eye opened, the iris easily as big as her head, studying her intently.

Her own eyes opened wide in awe and fear. She stood frozen unsure of what to do.

A low hum emitted from the creature, deep in tone with an echo that sent ripples in the water surrounding the island.

Natalia’s mind raced back and forth on whether she should run or fight.

The single eye closed and the hum turned to a groan which shook the large figure, more of the green ooze seeping out of its body.

A low hiss behind her sent a shiver through her. Twisting around she saw four yellow eyes studying her from the tunnel.

The four eyes moved closer before emerging, now enclosed in a dark gray carapace with holes along the sides. Near the bottom of the long carapace visible white fangs stuck out and behind those short antennae extended down to hang and shift with the creature’s movements. Another pair of antennae extended out from the sides of its face and a second pair from the back, all six slicked back like hair. A heavy dark purple robe rested on its wide shoulders with a gray shell extending up like a collar around the sides and back of its long head.

 “Will we regret your release?” The voice was smooth with the hint of a gravelly undertone like fine sandpaper rubbing together.

It walked through the water with ease. Reaching the opposite side of the outcropping she stood on, it climbed up to stand at its full height before her. It stood twice her height and was bulkier, much of its true form hidden by the robe that extended down to the ground to drape and drag with its movements. Its two right hands held a large white wooden staff; webs ornamented the twisted top.

“Speak, human female. We wish it!”

Natalia jumped at the butt of the staff slamming into the stone. Speak? Thoughts raced through her mind to reach for her rifle and fight or push past this creature and run for it, or a slew of other ideas. She licked her dry lips and swallowed having been too frozen in place to consider just simply talking. I just need to speak, but what do I say? One wrong word here could provoke them… She shook herself into action and straightened her shoulders before meeting the creatures open stare with her own. “I am Natalia. I don’t want any trouble; I just want to return to my friends on the surface.”

A loud hiss from the opposite side of the room was quickly joined by others.

Did I say something wrong? She looked all around.

The outcry grew silent with a raised fist from the creature standing before Natalia. “I am Sir Xililkdur of the Dublixion Hive, one of three advisors to King Alkdraz.” The antennae on the back of its head extended forward and the creature lowered its head slightly, so the tips were in reach of Natalia.

She recoiled at the long shapes reaching out to her, warped, and scarred in places. Does it want me to touch them? Some form of greeting? She began to pull off her gloves. Must be a way of greeting, what else could it be?”

Xililkdur peered up to her and spoke. “Extend your feelers.” He motioned to her hands.

Nervously, Natalia reached her hands out and in turn Xililkdur inched closer. Her hands brushed up against the bulbed ends of the antennae. Tiny black bristles rubbed against her bare skin. She forced herself to stay still, ignoring the urge to pull away from the antennae brushing along the palm of her hands. So, this is a silvrik. A giant insect. You would have fainted, big sis, even now the thought of blacking out isn’t so bad. She looked around again at the surrounding silvrik swarming in the shadows.

Xililkdur straightened, antennae moving away to slick back behind his head once more. He looked to the surrounding corners of the room and began to click and chatter. His fangs and antennae moved with the motion of his head bobbing as if talking.

Natalia looked all around at the chorus of sound that responded to Xililkdur’s own. “What’s happening?” she asked while putting her gloves back on, rubbing her hands together to rid herself of the feeling of rough bristles against her skin.

 “As suspected, you keep no ill intent,” Xililkdur said, returning his yellow-eyed gaze back to her.

“Like I said, I don’t want any trouble.”

“Words do not always equate to action. One must feel out the foreign to hold a better understanding.” Xililkdur tapped his staff against the stone and began to move forward. “Introductions then are complete, Natalia. Let us speak of present matters.”

Natalia stepped along the ridge of the stone trying to maintain distance between her and Xililkdur. “What are we talking about?

“You can touch both mortal blood and life-force of Coronam, a rare gift. As such you shall heal our king.” Xililkdur walked to the edge of the outcropping to look out at the large creature at the center of the lake.

“Your king?” she asked, following his gaze to the creature.

“Yes, he is in the stage of eternal pain, destined to remain until the last of his mortal blood drains from his shell.”

“And what am I suppose to do?”

“The human tongue is most difficult; did I not explain well our need?” Xililkdur turned to her with head tilted in a quizzical stare.

“But…” Natalia looked from Xililkdur then to the king. “Do you not have healers of your own?”

“If we had ones capable of touching mortal blood, then you would already be a bed for our young.”

He said that like its common, just how many people have died here? She shivered at the nightmarish fate. Blinking her eyes a few times to try to rid her mind of the horrid thoughts, she turned her attention back to the king and the green ooze seeping from his body. When he says mortal blood that must be my esper powers, but what about the life-force?

“The ritual is to begin in earnest.” Xililkdur walked through the water and began to make his way to the edge where he stepped down with long legs.

“Wait!” She called; her words drowned out by a low hum filling the air. Natalia looked all around to see shapes moving in the shadows cast in the dark royal blue color emitting from the crystals. The rapid buzz of wings overhead caused her to hurry along into the water after Xililkdur. She caught sight of large, winged silvrik darting overhead, a flash of yellow, orange, or red trailing behind their path. She came to the water’s edge and peered down. The drop was slightly taller than her, but seeing no alternative, she dropped down with a splash. Her boots sunk in slightly past her ankle.

“Hurry along, Natalia, the king has waited long enough!” Xililkdur called out.

“Wait, I said!” Natalia called back as she raced after Xililkdur whose antennae just barely popped into view from the floor below hers. Reaching the edge, she saw him already descending to the next. “Wait, damn it… What do you mean by life-force of Coronam? What am I supposed to do?”

“Come, Natalia!” Xililkdur was descending yet another floor as he neared the king.

Dropping to the next floor, Natalia sunk down to mid-thigh, water seeping into her boots and drenching her pants. Wet socks, this situation is not getting better. She grimaced but trudged on to the edge of this floor, the rocky outcroppings that rose above the water to give her a break were few and far between as she traversed the wide levels toward the distant king.

She sunk further with the next level, the water up to her waist. “Wait!” she snapped while trying to stay above the water and not trip on anything beneath. Movement wriggling past her legs caused her to yelp as she hurried along as fast as she could through the deep water. Natalia’s muscles ached as she took heavy breaths with the effort.

At the next ledge, the current of water was greater and she slipped, falling to the next floor. Pushing off from the ground, she snapped back out of the water with a gasp, the water now past her waist. Up ahead she saw the king now just a floor below, yet much of his body was level with her. The king’s large green eye was resting on her; the vertical iris seemed to pierce into her and left her in both fear and awe.

“Natalia!” Xililkdur called.

Natalia spotted him making his way across the water, feet just barely sinking in the surface. Pushing through the water, she climbed up onto a rocky outcropping, finding the dry surface a weak comfort as she dragged herself onto the ledge where she spotted a small rock just beneath the surface. She spotted more of the rocks heading in Xililkdur’s direction towards the king’s island.

The hum in the air grew made Natalia’s own heartbeat quicken. The feeling of urgency moved her into action as she dropped down the short distance to the rock.

She landed on one foot and was caught off guard by the lack of stone beneath the other. Falling over, she sank into the water and was met with the deep blue of the lake’s depths further below her, an endless darkness with no visible bottom. Her eyes widened as she saw tendrils of movement below. She began to flail wildly looking for something to grab onto before she was abruptly pulled from the water and into the air.

Coughing up water, she blinked her eyes clear and found herself adrift in the air. Looking up, she saw two winged creatures, their hooked hands around her arms. The crystal lights above glinted off their smooth black carapaces. One looked down at her with four eyes and a fifth in the center, a snarl with mandibles outstretched before her.

Before she had any time to react, she was unceremoniously dumped on the coast of the stone island, gentle waves rippling beside her.

“Rise, Natalia. We are about to begin.”

Natalia looked up to see Xililkdur standing above her with an outstretched hand, the small three forked fingers placed just before her. Taking them, she found the touch cold and hard yet smooth. Hoisted up to her feet, she nodded her head to him. “Thank you.”

“There is no need for thanks, as the sacrifice you are about make is far greater.”

A deep exhale washed over her, warm and with the pungent smell of decay. Natalia looked up to see the king inhaling a deep breath, his body rising with the effort. Lying on his side he still was twice the height of Xililkdur which left her feeling dwarfed. All around him were silvrik around her height or even smaller moving around their king with a comforting touch, using strange, twisted tools to mend him. The realization that escape was never an option when she had first fallen down the pit was now dawning on her. She shivered at the thought of what other great beasts could be lurking in the maze of tunnels all around her.

A small chattering squeak emitted from one of the silvrik surrounding the king. Several more of the small working silvrik turned their attention to Natalia while others backed away when Xililkdur stepped forward with his own retort.

“What’s happening?” Natalia asked.

“The princess is upset,” Xililkdur replied idly to Natalia before continuing in his own language tow the other silvrik.

The small silvrik speaking up to Xililkdur wore a velvet dress that wrapped around her lithe figure. Two thin, delicate looking antennae extended from her white furred head. Large black eyes with a tint of purple looked to Natalia briefly before turning back to Xililkdur. With a short hiss, she backed away to join the other silvrik.

“Are you prepared, Natalia?” Xililkdur asked, turning back to Natalia.

“I, uh,” she began, still nervously meeting the gaze of the other silvrik including the princess who were still looking in her direction. “I have to ask, what do you mean the sacrifice that I am about to make?” she asked turning to Xililkdur who had lowered his head to meet her, eyes looking to her with a hint of excitement.

“Oh?” Xililkdur’s antennae vibrated slightly as his fangs twisted, forming what could best be described as a smile. “The casting of mortal blood is dangerous, yes?”

“Um, well, I suppose…”

“We suspect you to perish here, a worthy fate to lay your hand upon King Alkdraz. A far better end then to lay dormant as food.”

“Right…” she muttered and gulped nervously. I help them and I die; I don’t then I die. Though if I help them then maybe I’ll get lucky, and they’ll spare me? She turned her attention back to the large king, another pungent breath washing over her, causing her nose to twist up in disgust. It’s a slim chance.

She stepped closer to the king. Eying up and down the body, Natalia took in the arrangement of carapace layers, both the outer shell and the under belly that had a fleshy appearance. “Where is his heart?” she asked looking toward the upper half of the body between the first set of thick arms.

“Which one?” Xililkdur asked.

“Uh, I suppose any would work.”

“Of the two, the one you should be able to reach is here.” Xililkdur walked forward to point out a spot where the fleshy under body seemed to swirl and intersect.

Natalia nodded and stepped besides Xililkdur taking care to not step in any of the green ooze puddles that seeped towards the water beyond. Next to the king she felt tiny and insignificant. “What caused these wounds anyways?”

“Many battles and sickness lay a great weight upon our king.”

“Right…” she muttered; thoughts of the trenches drifted in her mind as she squeezed her hand, recalling the glass of the vial breaking her skin.

“We have spoken enough. Perform the task, Natalia. We shall assist where possible,” Xililkdur said and left her alone besides the king.

She looked up at the great mass in front of her before settling her attention back to the spot where Alkdraz’s heart lay. Just perform the task… He makes it sound so easy. With trepidation she reached a hand out and paused over the spot. What am I even doing trying this? I’m not even a great healer. She glanced to either side again. Let alone I’ll be drained off all my blood before I can seal his wounds even with the blood vial. Swallowing, she lay her hand on the spot, finding it warm with a thin coat of something sticky. If Alek and Orsolya were here, then surely there would be a way out of this.

She reached her other hand out and pressed both together against the heart. Well, here it goes. Natalia closed her eyes and began to concentrate on the darkness. She exhaled and inhaled slowly several times, keeping focused on the dark. Time slipped by before she finally focused on the beat of her heart and the familiar warmth started to flow through her veins. Her attention turned to the foreign heart with a slow, but incredibly heavy thud that beat beneath the palms of her hand.

The warmth surged along her arm toward that heavy beat. As soon as the connection was made, she was awash in an immense sea of emotions and raw power. The pathways of veins going in every direction left her lost and confused on which way to travel. The cries for her attention from gaps in the pathways were seemingly endless. A feeling of overwhelming defeatism hit her, threatening to make her lose the connection altogether.

A low hum began to grow around her, giving her a rhythm to steady herself on. With her mind settled, she picked a path and began to travel down it, where it ended, she could not tell, but she knew it was in the direction of progress. Wherever the pathway was torn she mended it by extending her touch across as a means to bridge the gap.

Natalia slid through the warmth, a growing exhaustion piling on and soon her fast pace began to crawl to a halt. Her legs wobbled and sweat covered her face as she began to lose her grip and enter back into reality. Only the rhythmic hum allowed her to maintain any semblance of focus on her own heartbeat and the king’s.

The hum was joined with a loud buzz and chitters and chatters. A surging heat of a foreign power entangled her legs and quickly overcame her. This feeling. She felt a sudden constriction on her heart as the immense power threatened to pull her out of the spell. It’s the magic from before… She relaxed her body to the magic, allowing it to constrict around her heart tighter before releasing once a firm connection had been made. She felt invigorated and was soon back into the dark depths of the spell, clearing gaps with ease as the noise that had grown around her was left in her wake to only be a continuous hum once more. Occasionally a skitter of wings flew along her path before vanishing with a resurgence of heat that kept her moving and weaving through the magical spell. This must be the life-force of Coronam that Xililkdur spoke of.

Before long she found the heavy thud of another heartbeat. Completing the connection between hearts gave her a clearer picture of remaining wounds. A violent shaking threatened to push her out of the spell, however more buzzing and chattering gave her a final burst of warmth that surged through her. She fed it into the king as a last effort of her strength, her focus becoming lost with more shaking.

Her eyes shot open, and she found herself several feet back from where she had been standing. The great king was shifting from his position upon the ground. Muscles bulged with the effort of moving as large carapace sheets folded in and on one another with the movement of limbs. Before long, she had to crane her neck to see the top of the king’s head, nearly ten times higher than she was.

Silvrik flew in every which way around the king. More silvrik ran about excitedly on every floor of the stone steps that wrapped around the room, water splashing and flowing quickly. A loud buzz of excitement drowned the room.

A black three-fingered hand was offered to her; she followed the arm up to see Xililkdur standing with his form of a smile, eyes wide. Taking his hand, she was brought to her feet, legs shaking with the effort. She reached for a handkerchief in her coat pocket, wet from falling into the lake earlier. Wringing the handkerchief out she wiped her face of her sweat. Her clothes dripped water still, now mixed with sweat.

With her vision clear, she looked down to see the stone was awash with a fading blue glow, the crystals all around the edges cracking and turning to dust. She gasped in horror at the multitudes of curled up bodies of silvrik scattering the stone island, their bodies already falling apart with decay.

“A worthy sacrifice,” Xililkdur said.

“I… I killed them all?” Natalia asked, stunned as she lost count of the bodies before her.

“They gave their life for the ritual. An expected task for the Devoid.”

Natalia looked over to see Xililkdur’s attention was on the king standing before them.

I wonder if this is how high command sees us foot soldiers on the ground… to be sacrifices. Natalia squeezed her hands into fists before exhaling a deep breath pushing her anger about the war away.

King Alkdraz turned his large green eyes to Natalia. His entire body shifted as he lowered his massive head toward her. Large mandibles clicked together vibrating the air.

Natalia was frozen in place as her heart beat faster at the sight of the long mandibles drawing closer, taller than her and able to cut her in half with ease.

Xililkdur’s antennae extended out as his fangs chattered in response before he turned to Natalia. “King Alkdraz is grateful for your sacrifice and impressed by your good fortune to have survived the ordeal.”

“I am, uh, glad he appreciates it,” Natalia said, happy to divide her attention to Xililkdur and not focus entirely on the large green eyes studying her every movement. The pungent smell of the king now, though no longer reeking of decay, was still hot and disgusting and washed over her with each exhalation.

Xililkdur chattered more with the king before continuing to speak in the tongue that Natalia could understand. “He wishes to grant any request you may have, just name it.”

Natalia nervously rubbed her hands together. “I just want safe passage back to my companions.” More chattering occurred as Natalia was left to stand there, shivering as her chest vibrated with each word the king spoke.

“The request shall be met,” Xililkdur said.

“Thank you!” Natalia exclaimed; the tension she had been holding this entire time surrounded by silvrik was lifted as a heavy exhaustion hit her. Her legs wobbled more as they threatened to give out.

“First though, “Xililkdur said with all four hands clasping his staff, a yellow glow blossoming from the top. “You must rest, the king insists.”

A sweet smell wafted along Natalia’s nose, the weakness growing. “I don’t think… I can disagree…” she mumbled as she finally collapsed to the ground. Slumping over, her eyes began to drift close. Some sort of spell… too weak to resist. Are they really going to escort me out of here? Or am I never going to wake up? She weakly rubbed her eyes, trying to stay awake, the sweet smell only growing. Such a wonderful smell, like fresh sugar cookies from the oven. That sounds delicious. Natalia gave in to sleep, all her worries washing away as she was rocked in comfort by the hum that still hung in the air.

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Author of the on-going serial "Perpetual War"

2 thoughts on “Perpetual War Arc Three: Chapter Sixteen – Depths of Yul

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