Let me just tell you, I’m SUPER excited about this week’s chapter!! It was very fun to write, and I hope you enjoy reading it.
If you’re just coming along or need a refresher, find links to previous chapters here.
We scatter gravel as we run. Forziel is first, just in front of me, and Savi brings up the rear. The sun has set, and light is starting to fade. I barely tell what color Forziel’s hair is.
The clouds switch directions, wheeling down the canyon. Lightning fractures the sky. Thunder rattles loose dust that dribbles down the canyon walls.
Aia, don’t let any of us die.
Flash!–boom!–right after each other, almost on top of us.
“Remind me why we’re running toward the crazy demon storm?” Drigo shouts.
“We’re trapped in a canyon,” Forziel yells. “Gotta get higher before it floods.”
Will we reach the ruins in time?
Will the aivenkaites leave if we do?
Will they try to drag us into the water like when they tried to drown me at my beach?
Can Savi and I protect everyone?
Lightning splinters inside the clouds. It silhouettes undulating shapes, humanoid and animalesque mixing together.
Black dots float in my eyes.
Aia, don’t let anyone die.
Hot wetness flicks onto my forehead. Another warm drop pricks my arm.
“It’s starting to rain,” Drigo says.
“Really?” Liwin snaps. Hoenna rebukes him.
“Faster,” Forziel calls. He speeds up.
The pebbles darken, made slick by the drops falling faster from the black clouds. My weak ankle twists, and I almost go down. I stumble forward.
The rain falls harder. The gravel on the canyon floor fades into red sand, turning ever darker as it soaks up more water.
Run over a puddle. Water in my sandal. Old leather slick under my calloused heels.
The rain falls harder. My clothes are as wet as when we swam through the river. They weigh me down. The loose fabric of my pants clings to my legs.
Lightning again, and a clap that stops my heart before sending it racing.
The aivenkaites stay in the cloud. They shout in their foul language and hurl water at us.
Hoenna urges Liwin on. Savi shouts forward, “How much further?”
“Just keep running,” Forziel yells.
The rain falls harder. It streams over my head, down my face, into my eyes. Every step sprays muddy water. Nihae behind me splatters my back with ruddy mud, and I do the same for Forziel.
It doesn’t matter how dirty we are. We just have to be safe.
“There!” Forziel points. Through a curtain of rain, a hole stands high in the canyon wall.
The rain falls harder. We have to wade now, careful with the torrent rushing above our ankles. I shield my eyes with my sword hand and peer up. The clouds are lower, the aivenkaites louder. They flash white light, blinding.
“We’re here!” Forziel laughs. He pats a weather-worn staircase carved from the side of the canyon. “Up there. We’ll be safe.”
“Go on.” I nudge him forward and help Nihae start climbing. The clouds overhead spin lower. I scream and brandish my sword at the sky.
The clouds raise a little.
The rain falls harder.
“Go,” I wave the others forward. “I’ll follow.”
They clamber up the slick steps. Savi comes last, and insists I go before him. He holds Elgarnoseth over us and keeps his hand on my back.
My sandal squelches free of the mud. I climb the first couple steps.
Then it starts to hail.
“What?” Laen, the last one up the steps before me, flinches. Her foot slips. My heart lurches with her.
Hands shoot out of the dark door opening. Drigo and Forziel each catch one of Laen’s arms and haul her inside.
I start moving again. The steps stretch up and up. Whoever built this city must have known how high the canyon can flood and planned to stay dry forever.
Those who climbed first churned the rain and dirt on the steps into slippery mud. “Be careful, Rai,” Savi says behind me.
I climb slow, as fast as I dare, and keep my sling-bound shoulder brushing the side of the cliff. The hail pelts my head, my arms, the puddles on the stairs–anything it can reach. It melts as soon as it hits the ground.
Until it doesn’t. A pebble of ice catches under my heel.
My foot slips. I shift, but the sling throws my balance off. I slip sideways.
Red water splashes under me, far away. I close my eyes against the fall.
A hand grabs my good shoulder. My eyes fly open. Savi is here, yanking me back, pushing me against the wall.
But he must have moved too quickly. As he pushes me back, he’s falling away. He grabs at the air. Our fingers brush, but the rain, the mud–they’re too slick. I can’t catch him.
A scream. Is it in my head, or in the air?
Savi dangles by one hand over the rising water. I drop Luemikaroeth on the next step up and cling to his wrist. “Hold on.”
Veins stand out on Savi’s face and arms. “I’m trying,” he grunts.
I try to pull, but I can’t get leverage. There’s no space to move back on the narrow steps. Everything is slippery. I can only use one arm, and Savi has to hold onto Elgarnoseth.
It’s not enough. At least when he was dangling over the side of a cliff on Ira, we had rope.
Aia, save him!
Forziel snatches up Luemikaroeth and holds it between us and the sky. “Don’t you dare come any closer,” he screams at the sky. “Not unless you wanna go straight back to the Void!”
Hail melts off our skin. It runs between my fingers. Savi slips a hair’s breadth lower.
My heart is beating out of my chest.
Nihae calls for Savi to hold on. Then Drigo’s back on the steps, right above me, and Hoenna’s above him in the doorway. “Gimme your hand,” Drigo says. “Just don’t cut mine off.”
Savi kicks his feet to the side. He swings to reach Drigo, but it strains our hold on each other. I cry out his name.
The water brushes Savi’s toes. He swings.
I lose my grip.
Then Savi’s dangling from Drigo. “That’s it,” the Kedi encourages. His neck strains against the cords of bone. “Hoenna, a little help?”
Hoenna hooks one arm around the open door and one around Drigo’s waist.
Savi’s higher now, but so is the water. Lightning arcs between the clouds and the torrent churning down the canyon. Where the lightning hits, the water buckles and convulses into a monstrous crocodile.
“Pull,” Savi grunts.
“Hold on,” Drigo says.
Savi’s face turns deeper red. He swings and catches Drigo’s wrist with his other hand, then Drigo and Hoenna pull.
The aivenkaite crocodile snaps at the air right under Savi’s heels. Thunder crackles.
He tosses me Luemikaroeth. This time, I do catch it. I stab at the solid water, and the beastly form dissolves with a shriek. The clouds are lower, so I thrust Luemikaroeth up without pausing. “I will use this!” I scream, loud enough it burns my throat.
The bandits haul Savi back onto the steps, then we’re all through the door, and I throw myself at Savi.
The aivenkaites in the clouds roar.
“Watch out!” Forziel yells.
Savi tugs me away from the open doorway. The ground shakes in a peal of thunder. Lightning flashes so close its heat smacks my face. It strikes the canyon above the door.
“Back up,” someone yells, drowned out by the world shaking.
We flee back, just a few steps before the door caves in. The crash deafens me.
My ears ring. I clutch tight at Saviayr. He squeezes back, both arms tight, cheek pressed to the top of my head. We’re both panting.
The ringing starts to fade, and the first sound I hear is Savi’s heart racing under my ear.
“Are you okay?” My hands start to move, feeling for injury in the dark.
Savi rubs my back. “Bruised, but okay. Are you hurt?”
I shake my head. “No worse than before.”
Now I hear breaths, loud in the dark. The storm outside sounds like it stopped more suddenly than it began. Everything is too quiet, just like the dungeon tunnel before the aivenkaites attacked, just like the lull after Elesekk died.
“Is everyone okay?” My voice is too high. I don’t let go of Savi.
My head swims and the floor seems to tilt. Wait–it is tilting. I shriek and flail. Savi clutches my wrist. There’s a grating of rock against rock.
“They’re in the rocks,” I say, just before something hits my stomach.
“Who?” Drigo asks. “People live here?”
“Aivenkaites,” Savi grunts at Drigo.
The ground under my foot turns to sludge. It sucks me down. I yell and take a blind stab.
An aivenkaite moans, and my foot is free.
The air hums by my ear–Savi swinging Elgarnoseth. I flinch away.
“Something’s got me!” Forziel exclaims.
He’s close, so I stumble toward his voice. “Keep talking,” I order.
A rock bangs my shoulder. I fall forward, onto someone.
“I’m trying,” Forziel gasps, right in front of me.
“Where’s it got you?” I ask.
I’m clumsy moving blind, but it can’t be helped. With as much care as possible, I nick the stone curling around Forziel’s neck with my blade.
The stone crumbles.
But Nihae calls for help, and Hoenna, and Laen, and Savi’s trying to find Drigo, and a new rock rams into my knee. We can’t do this.
“Aia, save us,” I choke through the dust in the air. The golden-dust light of dawn on Ira flickers through my mind, and memory of Nhardah’s voice echoes in my ears. I find myself repeating what he had said. “I name you wicked rebels of Aia-Thaies, and by the power of Aia-Thaies, the creator of all, I command you to leave us alone!”
At the same time, Saviayr shouts, “You will not take another life today! Hae-Aia!”
The rumble of shifting rock pauses for a heartbeat. Then it starts again–but this time, rock smacks against rock, not human flesh. A stone whistles past my ear, but does not touch me. The aivenkaites grumble. Usually their evil tongue sends cold shivers down my spine, but this time, triumph warms my chest.
The room shudders. Someone’s arm wraps around me. Saviayr shouts, and I imagine him holding Elgarnoseth over all our heads.
Then the world settles. I cough on the dust, and sneeze. The sneezes echoing around the room reassure me that some of my friends survive still.
I sneeze one more time, then repeat my question from earlier. It takes a moment, but everyone reports: Scrapes, bruises, a stubbed toe, but no one missing, no serious injuries.
“I hate this,” Drigo says. “Storm’s quiet. Let’s try to get out of here.” His footsteps rustle debris, but I’ve lost all sense of which way is which.
“Wait!” Forziel says.
Drigo hisses and says a word I don’t recognize, probably a Kedi curse. “In case you were wondering, these rocks are hot.”
“Lightning struck them,” Forziel says. “What did you expect?”
“What did I expect? This whole day’s been one big batch of weird. Did you see that storm, did you feel this room attack us, or was it just me?”
“Well,” Forziel says, “a couple days ago I saw the desert come to life and hurl itself at us, so murderous storms and homicidal rooms aren’t that out of the ordinary.”
Drigo snorts. “Right. So it’s perfectly reasonable to expect whatever magic made the storm to not make the rocks hot, right?”
“Drigo,” Laen sounds tired, “they’re aivenkaites, not magic.”
“What’s the difference?”
I feel Saviayr sigh. “Okay, if we can all calm down for a moment, let’s try to focus on our new problem. Did anyone see a passageway out of this room before the door caved in?”
Silence greets us again, full only of our breaths.
“Does that mean no?” I ask.
“I was too focused on what was happening outside,” Forziel says.
“Then let’s check now,” Savi says. “But be careful. Everyone stay within earshot.”
“Get your hands off me!”
“Ouch! That’s my foot.”
“Yikes! Something moved.”
“That was my hand.”
Everyone climbs over each other, feeling every part of the room. Savi and I stand out of the way and listen to the search.
It stops abruptly when Forziel says, “Woah, there’s a hole.”
“Where?” Liwin asks.
Some shuffling, and Forziel says, “I think it stretches across the whole room.”
“Liwin, keep away from it,” Hoenna orders.
“But, Dad, Forziel gets to check it out,” Liwin complains.
“Forziel,” Savi asks, “are you absolutely certain?”
Some more shuffling, and Forziel answers, “Yep. In this dark, I have no idea how far across the gap is, but we’re stuck.”
“Awesome,” Drigo says. “We’re doing great at getting to the capital. I’m sure dying trapped in here was part of your plan?”
“Shut up, Drigo.”