Embers – Chapter 11
“So how, exactly, am I supposed to get in there?” I looked down at the gaping black hole. “Jumping into abysses isn’t quite my thing.” Sergion stood above where Erik and I sat at the edge. I intended on making the Head Mage’s last few moments with me his least desirable.
“Fall,” he said simply.
“That doesn’t sound too promising,” I replied.
“The Land of the Dead isn’t supposed to hold promises,” Sergion said.
I’d had enough of his truisms, his turns of phrase. His silly, unhelpful advice.
“And how am I supposed to get out when I’m through with the binding?”
The crowd around us grew silent. The nymphs tittered, their wings swishing like Specter satin. I shivered.
“You’ll find a way,” Sergion replied.
“That’s just supposed to mean you have no idea,” I said. He nodded at the soldier at his side who stepped toward us, bayonet raised.
“Do your duty. The rest will follow,” he said shortly.
Erik’s hands were still chained and it didn’t look as though our captors had provided a key. I was beginning to feel less like an Order member and more like a convict. Then again, that wasn’t out of the ordinary for how I’d been feeling ever since the village burned down. I wanted to grab Erik’s hand, to hold it as we fell into the nothingness, to not have to be alone in our final moments on Earth, but I couldn’t look weak in front of the Order head. The breeze rustled a few wisps of my hair that had come untied from its bun. I breathed deeply, the scent of lilacs tinged by rotting flesh. Great memories.
“If I do find a way out,” I whispered, “I intend on changing a few things here.”
Sergion shrugged. “Just do what you are told. Like I said before, the rest will follow.”
I rolled my eyes and lowered myself into the hole. Pebbles on the ground bit into my palms but I refused to flinch. My feet dangled into the open air as I searched for a foothold. Nope. Nothing. With a deep breath, I closed my eyes and let go. The dank air rushed by me as I plummeted into the depths. My breath froze in my lungs as goose bumps sprouted on my uncovered arms. The wind whistled to a stop and I put my arms in front of me, ready to brace for unforgiving gravity. But I felt nothing.
Slowly, I opened my eyes and looked around. I floated, suspended in mid-air, inches above the ground. Erik’s silver irises glowed white beside me through the darkness, but no familiar fear snaked up my arms.
Whatever kept us alight gently set us down on the floor. I arched my neck back to glimpse the abyss entrance. The cavern stretched up above us, the opening a mere pinprick of light. Sun slivers slid across the blue walls. A weaving, stone path led away from the light and I motioned for Erik to follow.
“Any of this look familiar?” I asked.
“Was that supposed to be a joke?”
I shrugged. “I guess I’m just trying to lighten the situation.” As if on cue, the sun disappeared above us.
“They closed the opening,” Erik said. I could feel panic poison his words and I threw my shoulders back. My magic coursed into my palms, forming itself into small orbs of light. They had no intention of letting me back into the world. Not with the danger I posed for them, the knowledge I had about their corruption. Their mistakes. The mistakes of my mother. I followed the path, Erik close behind. My shoes crunched across the pebbles and filled the cavern with lengthy echoes. Curiously enough, we didn’t see a corpse, which seemed kind of strange since this was supposed to be the Land of the Dead. A dusty speck floated into my light. It sparkled brightly in my line of vision.
“They’re coming,” Erik whispered. I clenched my jaw shut, more of my magic burning the tips of my fingers. More specks glittered from the shadows and filled the air with shining dots. Their light outshone my orbs as the dots gravitated together. I shaded my eyes. Air crackled, electric, and then the glitter subsided. A gray old man stood a few feet in front of us, his back bent, his body supported by a crutch. I tensed and reached for my knife.
“Melody. We’ve been waiting for you for so long,” the man said. He had wrinkles that made some of the three hundred year-old dwarves I’d seen look like youngsters. He glanced at Erik. “Welcome back, our child. We knew you would return eventually.”
“It was not originally my first choice,” Erik said. I wanted to tell him to be quiet. Who would want to live on the surface anyway? Death, as far as I could tell, was much closer to freedom.
Shrugging, the man twirled a lock of his grey hair around his finger. “Choice matters little now since your fates are clearly laid before you,” his eyes smiled up at me, mischievous.
My mind raced as it recalled the story of my mother. “You knew a female mage of the High Order, did you not?”
“Your mother?” He asked. It was more a statement than a question.
I nodded vigorously, my throat dry.
“Melody,” Erik warned. “Think of what you are doing.” But I shook him off.
“Is she still here? Among you?” I asked.
The old man nodded gravely. “Yes. She resides in limbo. With your father.”
My throat burned, my eyes ached. If I was sentenced to die here with Erik, I could be granted a last wish, correct? A last rite of sorts?
“Can I see her?” I choked out.
“Melody, don’t do this,” Erik said behind me, but he did not move forward to stop me, did not move to take the gem from my hand. He understood this was the end, for both of us.
The old man ignored Erik and hobbled toward me. His gums, rotted, stank of age and decay. “You have the ruby?”
I nodded. “You know what I have to do. That I have to free you from this place.”
He nodded. “I have been waiting for centuries to cross over my dear. To finally rest. My back has grown bent from holding my breath. Waiting for another to try to free us from the curse your people placed upon us all centuries ago.
“Show me my mother and then I will free you” I replied.
“Very well, very well. But even when you see her, understand she is dead. She will try to turn you over to us. You must resist. There are members of my kind who wish to remain in the world, who do not understand that we do not belong here,” he said slowly.
“This is a horrible idea,” Erik whispered behind me. I squeezed the ruby in my palm.
“Trust me. I’m stronger than you think,” I replied.
Wind whistled through my ears. Erik stood beside me now, his silver eyes glowing.
“She’s here,” he whispered.
I turned around and lit my orb once more. Light threw itself around the interminable cavern. I inhaled sharply. Floating inches above the ground, her auburn hair unkempt, stood my mother.