Lost in the Light Ch. 09


They gave the princess a cloak, and fed her some bread and berries before Twenyl lead her off into the woods. Lysia watched her leave. For one moment, Riyarra looked back and met her gaze. Lysia saw the doom in her eyes, the grim acceptance of one's fate. It was a surprisingly lucid moment for the feverish Riyarra. Lysia prayed it was not their last goodbye. Bu the look Riyarra gave her... The princess knew more of what her ailment was than Lysia did. She had to have hope. Despite their horrible first encounter, if it had not been for the princess she would not be where she was now. She couldn't say goodbye like this. Lysia turned her back and didn't watch them disappear.

She had her archery to practice.

When night started to fall Valel found her still up shooting her bow away off from camp. He climbed a tree for a better view. His silent handholds and agile footwork did not disturb the restful tree from slumbering. The sounds of her arrows whizzing through the air were the only sounds out of place here in the dark wilds. But it could not be helped as she was not skilled enough yet to make her shots silent. She was his charge, his apprentice, but at times he felt she needed to learn things on her own without his tutelage. Coping with the past was tonight's lesson. When she first started to sneak away to practice, he had followed, just as he did this night. He was angry at first -- she had broken camp discipline, but that changed when he saw what she was doing. Lysia would find a large black rock, scratch a vaguely Elven face to it with another stone, and proceed to ricochet arrow heads off its forehead.

It was this effigy she created each night that silenced his scolding. She had survived her abuse by harboring a darkness in her heart, and this was its release. Such a thing was not unacceptable, but Valel knew from experience that it would only bring her more sorrow in the end. So he kept an eye on her each time she ran off, and observed her skill improve night after night. If she needed revenge to push on, it was not his place to deny it to her, but merely to offer other paths when they could be offered.

Tink!... Tink!...whoosh... Tink!... whoosh...

The soft melody of strike and miss was almost calming. Valel closed his eyes and remembered his days practicing. They were in a better equipped range than this secluded section of wilderness, and accompanied by the melodies of his fellow initiates as they practiced as well.

The melody stopped, and Valel opened his eyes.

Lysia walked the range and collected her shots. She knew were each one landed and it took very little time. Finished, she looked to her target, staring down its battered features. With a swift kick she sent the rock tumbling noisily across the ground. Valel scowled. Next she erected a wooded body out of a fallen log, and gave it a head and limbs. Its eyes she made out of small rocks, and the ears out of twigs. Then, with careful aiming, she set to dismembering it with her shots. First to the arms at the shoulders -- it took a few tries to knock them off. Valel smiled at her imaginative design to precision shooting. Next, the legs at the knees -- both good shots, she made easily. Then came the eyes, she blinded it with subsequent shots. Then the ears were shot off... and at last the rest of the quiver was emptied into its groin.

Valel scowled again, but he understood this was her pain. He tried to think of what to say, how to encourage her to let go of her rage; in the wrong circumstances it could be used against her, and put her life and those of her companions at risk. As her Master, he had that responsibility. But as her savior, and having seen the atrocities her captors were committing with her flesh, he could not deny her this. He pitied her. Fate was cruel enough to mark her as Yvarna for such trivial a crime, but to abandon her to the wild to be devoured by beasts... Only to survive and be discovered by their troop. Fate was indeed cruel. The Leaf Knights would not tolerate a Yvarna amongst them. No matter her heart, or her dedication to the task, she was a blemish on their pride and their honor. The Yvarna were criminals, only... Valel closed his eyes and burned the thought from his mind. Only a cleric could bestow the mark of a Yvarna, and its curse. But even they could not remove it, that was the duty of the cursed. It was very, very rare for a Yvarna to earn freedom from such a mark. They usually died trying to free themselves, or lived out their nature lives accursed. A great pity filled Valel's heart. This poor girl was doomed to die soon. They would soon strike their target, and Lysia's abilities were not enough to save her. The others would abandon her on the battlefield because of her mark, and Valel would be forced to die protecting her or to abandon his post and leave her to her fate. Fate, was not stingy with its cruelty he mused to himself.

Lysia drew her knife and proceeded to eviscerate the poor target dummy. Chunks of rotten bark flew to the ground with each wicked slash after wicked slash. Soon the forcefulness of her strikes took their toll and she grunted in exertion with each one. She was using her hate as a tool, channeling it into each swing.

A shot whizzed past her, and the dummy's head exploded.

Valel didn't move, but quietly replaced his bow over his shoulder. Lysia whirled around and was about to throw her knife in his direction, but when their eyes met she crumpled to the ground and sobbed. He had seen her pain. Of all the Leaf Knights, he was the last she wanted to see her like this. She wanted to be the perfect student for him.

"Why?!" she hissed. "Why did you save me?" she whispered to the night air. "I am nothing!" she almost cried out. Her good sense had not left her so completely as to shout the words, although she burned to scream them out. "If you had just left me... you could have found her sooner! You could have saved her!" she accused him. Valel dismounted and approached her. His visage was blank, and stoic. She expected him as her Master to be furious with her outburst. Or as the gentleman she knew he was, to be apologetic and sorrowful. But instead he was cold... she never wanted him cold. Not to her. She dropped her shoulders and wept.

A compassionate hand touched her shoulder, but he did not speak until she had calmed down.

"Leave here," He advised. "Tonight. Take what you can, and leave us. Run. Run far away from this pain. Or take what skills you have already learned and hunt the woods for your demons. But leave here tonight."

"Why are you sending me away?" she cried at him. She was no warrior. Lysia had only been pretending to be strong. When it came down to conflict, she always wilted. "I..." she was about to admit to something but couldn't find the words. "I care for you. You've done so much for me. Why are you sending me away?" Valel's heart sank. Her own words were dooming her sooner than he wished.

"Please forgive me," He said in sorrow, and slid his knife into her ribs down to the hilt. Lysia whimpered once, and grew still. His blade had been true and merciful. Gingerly, he laid her down on the ground and kissed her forehead. Valel closed her eyes, folded her arms over her chest, and whispered a silent prayer over her.

When he rose, Iala was watching him with her stern arms crossed over her chest. She nodded in silent acknowledgement, and turned to leave. Valel tried to take a step to follow her, but his own feelings fought him. The cold façade finally broke.

The moment Iala was out of sight, Valel dropped to the prone form and threw his cloak over his hand as it covered the wound. The bright flash of magic from underneath was muffled by the fabric. Without loosing a beat, he thrust his hand over her mouth to muffle the sharp gasp of breath as that fleeting life was suddenly recaptured and flared up.

Lysia's gaze shot wide and she screamed into his hand. He clenched her teeth painfully in his grip to silence her, and affixed her fearful, accusing eyes with a fierce, angry glare. Slowly he pulled his hand out from under the fabric and put a finger to her lips to quiet her.

"Run, or die." He ordered her, and he lifted himself off her. Lysia stood conflicted. Angry, bewildered, cowering, she gathered her bow and arrows and fought back the sobs, but eventually they came. Valel watched her icily, his gaze fixed on her back as it trudged into the darkness beyond, and she was gone.

In time, he prayed she would understand, but he knew better.

When Valel pulled back the flap to his tent, he found Iala had reclaimed her space as his partner. She looked up from her meditation with a sorrowful expression on her face.

"That was a great kindness. And a terrible burden," she whispered. "I would have gladly joined you to guide her home. But soon-"

"I know," Valel cut her off. "If we had found Princess Riyarra sooner, she wouldn't have had to go through that, and we would have found hope."

"You do not believe your father will succeed?" Iala asked, but she knew the answer.

"He will, but not at purifying her. You and I have seen corruption, and it never ends well." Valel sat and crossed his legs similar to Iala's meditative posture. "Riyarra is lost. Our cause is dust. Our only course of action is to avenge ourselves on those that put that monster on the throne."

"I will stay and pray to the spirits with you. Together we can ease her passage." She reached up to touch his cheek, but he recoiled form it.

"No," He said coldly. "I want to keep this anger. I will not grieve for her, or be sad. Not until I lay dying surrounded by the corpses of our enemies." Iala dared to scowl at him, he was being unusually emotional. She looked to her hands for the answer.

"Did you care for her?" She asked calmly. Valel did not respond. "Then I will ask the Great Sprit to forgive her when I see him, and you will meet each other again." She dared to smile at him. Valel relented and nodded his approval.

"We wait for my father, and then we strike..." Valel said and began his meditation.

Despite his age, Twenyl could traverse the rocky hillside as if he were younger and they were old friends. Not once did he loose his footing, or his grip on the rock sides to steady his pace. The sickly Riyarra on the other hand, struggled with each step. Often, the old cleric would sit and wait for her to catch up and just smile approvingly when she would look at him bewildered as to how he could manage such a trek. Her senses came and went, as did her stamina. At times she would be infused with an endless vigor and scaled the mountainside at a determined paced. At other times she lumbered along, half awake as the fever muddled her mind. At those times Twenyl resounded himself to guiding her by his arm. That made their trip more difficult. Two people had a harder time fitting between a pine and a rock crack, than one slender elf.

I won't be long now. He realized. Her aggression had left her at the base of the mountain, her constant flirtations and propositions ended half-way up the base. When she stopped trying to sate it, he knew the battle was over, and now it was going to burn her out. But luck was still with them, it wasn't much farther to the spring. What gnawed at his resolve was maintaining the hope that this would work, when so many others failed.

Twenyl placed a hand at the opening to the cave. He could smell the crisp clean air of the sacred waters inside. As before, he waited patiently for his princess to catch up. And when she did he took her arm in his, and guided the stumbling lady down through the cavern entrance. He could have eased her assent at any number of moments during their trip, she would have had more strength to face what was about to come. But he weighed that option with his role in her purification, and decided that he would need his strength more. If they failed, the beast would take over her, and he would need all his might to slay her immediately before she killed him. It was not an easy decision.

"We are here," he said calmly, and brushed a sweaty mass of hair from her face. "How are you feeling, my child? You will be well soon." Riyarra grunted an unintelligent whine. "It is not long now." He said sadly. He took her by the shoulders and pulled the cloak tighter around her body for warmth. Despite her fever, the chill of the mountain air could rob her of precious strength.

They left the light of sun behind them, and so Twenyl summoned up a glowing wisp to guide their path down the cave. It floated through the air and cast its pale blue-white light over the rock walls. Riyarra seemed enraptured by it, and would follow it on her own, Twenyl had only to guide it. Their path wound deep into the mountain; at times they had to crouch and crawl to get through the openings in the rock. But once this section was passed, the tunnel opened up into a large cavern with a crystalline pool in its center. The water only came up to their knees. But Twenyl could feel the natural energies and the power that resided in this place. He had been here once before, to witness its splendor and to meditate on its beauty. This was the first time he sought to use its power. Deep in his heart he regretted that he would be defiling this sacred place with the evil that infected his princess. But along with that fear was the hope that it would work, he had never felt such ambient power before, and he prayed it was up to the task.

Twenyl stepped in first. Showing that it was cool and refreshing he offered his hand to Riyarra. But something gave her pause.

"Come on my dear, this will make you feel better," he enticed her. "It is very relaxing, and will take away that fever." There was nervousness to his voice that she noticed. Twenyl wasn't a very convincing liar. She resisted, and growled at him. When he pulled her hand, she moved to bite his arm. The old man recoiled and looked hurt.

"My Queen," he begged. Those words seemed to snap some semblance of recognition in her fleeting mind. "Please come. It will only tingle for a little while."

Riyarra stood up straight and looked down at the hunched man in stubborn determination. Her cloak fell off her shoulders, exposing her sweaty bare skin to the crisp air. She took a brave step into the pool. The water started to fizzle and bubble around her flesh, a good sign to the worrisome Cleric. She took another step forward. And another. And another...

Twenyl waded deeper in until the water came up to his waist soaking the green leaves of his robes, all the while trailing his hand behind him for her to take as she tried to follow. It was clear the bubbling reaction of the water to her presence was starting to cause her some discomfort. But she was past fear and pain now. It was with an almost vacant determination that she waded the rest of the way. When she finally reached him, she let out a whimpe from the pain and collapsed into his arms. Her eyes rolled into the back of her head, and she closed them. Gingerly, he lifted her up into the water until she was floating on her back. The spring water effervesced around her, those dribbles of water that clung to her bare chest evaporated immediately and left a terrible sulfur smell behind.

"O' Great Spirit, of light and life. Take this child into your caring embrace and chase from her the sickness that steals her life. Give her your gift, and rejoice in the gifts she will give to others." He gave a customary prayer, his voice never wavered despite the harrowing task before him. Riyarra whimpered from the irritation of the water. Without another word, he put a hand on her chest and plunged her in completely. There he held her as the water started to boil and bubble violently around her.

At first she accepted it. But quickly the pain grew too much and she started to struggle. With an unnatural strength Twenyl held firm, his eyes closed in grim concentration, and his brow furrowed in a pained look. Riyarra fought back, she kicked, she clawed, she grabbed his throat and squeezed. But the old cleric held firm. The water raged around them, and he was forced to close his mouth to keep from breathing in the noxious vapors. The water level started to lower from the violent reaction, and Twenyl had to keep pushing her lower and lower to keep her submerged.

This fight raged on for endless moments. The only progress he could fathom was when he had her pinned to the bottom of the pool, and yet still the water continued to boil off leaving less and less behind. Twenyl's old skin was turning a bright pink from the heat coming off of her, and his last hairs had long since burned off his scalp in the acrid, noxious air.

Ry! Came Gayne's voice in the darkness heard only to her. My Love, do not fight it. Let it take you. My love, trust in me.

Riyarra opened her eyes under the water, and it burned them. In that glimmering moment between life and death she accepted his words and stopped struggling. The pain was unbearable, it burned her down into her the deepest corners of her soul. But somehow his voice had made it all wash away in that brief moment. Her vision cleared, and in the water's surface she could see Gayne's face. He looked as she remembered him when he died, and not as he appeared in her dreams -- older and more handsome.

Let me go my love. He beseeched her. It is because I am here that you will survive this. Allow me to serve my queen one last time and show my love for you. Let me take this evil with me! Let me take this pain, and fight my love! Fight for your people! Fight for me! And LIVE!

Gayne's face disappeared as the water's surface boiled away and revealed the smoky air of the cavern. Before she could draw in a sharp breath of life giving air, Twenyl's hand clasped over her mouth. She looked to him amid tear-filled eyes and saw his own face scrunched closed against the noxious air.

Slowly a soft breeze started to swirl around them, dispersing the vile air and bring in a dry, crisp feeling to her skin. The air flowed around Twenyl, whose red face was struggling to hold his breath while summoning the air sprites to clear the air. When he could take no more he gasped suddenly and about collapsed backward. His hand came away, and Riyarra gasped sharply as well. Cold, crisp, wonderful air filled her lungs and for a few difficult moments she coughed up foul smelling breath.

Twenyl crawled away from her among the puddles that remained of the once tranquil pool. His strength was leaving him rapidly, and his breaths were short and labored until finally he collapse not far away. Riyarra curled up on her side and hugged her knees to her chest. A great burden had been lifted from her soul, and finally she felt whole and clear headed. But it came at a terrible price. She could no longer feel Gayne's spirit within her.

I wanted to take you home. She prayed silently to the vacant spirit. I wanted to have you with me forever my love. But I understand now. An artist's soul needs life. I was dooming you for the sake of my own selfishness. Riyarra lifted herself up and sat with her knees pulled to her chest.

"Goodbye my love," She said to the open air. "Great Spirit receive your beloved child Gayne, and forgive him his sins."

"I felt.." Twenyl gasped as he struggled to roll over on his back. "A spirit leave your body... I thought it was you... I thought...we failed." He struggled to catch his breath. Twenyl opened his eyes and stared at the scintillating colors that danced over the cavern's ceiling. "Oh, so pretty..." he bemoaned in awe. But something seemed out of place about them.

There was nothing in this cavern that should give off such a light.

Fearfully, Twenyl lifted his head to look upon his princess. He was unprepared for the humbling sight before him.

From Riyarra's back, four gossamer wings stroked the air lazily. They gave off a magical, scintillating light or blues, greens, pinks, and purples as they were made of the natural magic essences. Riyarra seemed not to notice them as she stared off into the darkness of the cavern. A clump of wet blonde hair fell into her eyes and she finally moved to part it from her face.

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