Chapter Story – Part Four
A gust of wind slammed my body, and I toppled over as if the hand of Many Gods slapped me to the ground. Snow eddied and spun all around me, and any sight I did have vanished. I clamped my gloved hands to my face and waited for the wind’s unexpected burst of energy to recede.
I huddled in the snow, with my hooded cowl and cloak cinched tight round my body. My breath bounced back to my face off my gloves, the deer skin leather issuing forth a last remembrance of its lost vitality and life. The wind pressed on me, as if people circled me and taunted me to stand, to challenge their authority.
Then the pressing stopped.
I peeked out from between my fingers. Snow crystals flurried and created a barrier that left my vision limited to a foot in front of me. At least, I could make out the somewhat discernible trail that led through the mountain meadow I crouched in.
I pushed to standing and shuffled to where I knew the tree line started, my hands splayed in front of me, searching. My eyes focused on my snowshoes as they flipped the powder snow like hot cakes over a griddle.
A bullying-gust of wind crashed into my back and propelled me forward. My face bashed into something hard, and I slid backward into the snow. Unconsciousness cloaked my eyes in darkness.
I woke to a tiny light flickering in front of me, seemingly at a far distance, and a humid chill saturated the air. I blinked several times and tried to remember what had happened.
I remembered leaving the house at the first break of light, packed and determined to find Sebastian. I remembered snowshoeing my way up the mountain and turning toward the Iden village, knowing the only path to Houlybroch Den crossed over their land. I remembered being scared, unsure how to sneak through without getting caught.
I remembered the blustering, powerful wind knocking me over. And my face slamming into something solid. I must have been knocked out. But where was I now? And where was all the snow?
I couldn’t see what I lay on but my bare cheek told me dirt and pebbles. I took a deep breath. The air’s aroma smelled familiar.
I tensed. It couldn’t be! I made sure not to be followed.
But it didn’t matter if I was followed or not, did it? He knew where I was going all along. He knew I would seek Sebastian if I believed there was a chance he still lived.
You’re a fool! I berated myself for falling for his trap, their trap, because it wasn’t really Morgan, was it? The smokey worm controlled him, made him deceive me.
Damn them. Damn me! I should have known that it was too good to be true. Sebastian alive? Seriously?! I grunted and cursed myself. But what did they want from me? I was no one, not wealthy or powerful. I had no great gifts.
The only gift I ever truly had was loving Sebastian.Tears stung my eyes. My love. Loss settled over me like a silent rain, so permeating that my breath left my lips as if it were my last. Might as well be. A life without Sebastian was no life to live.
The tiny flickering light flared and burst into a gigantic bonfire. A rush of heat, bright and blinding blasted my face. I squinted my eyes to see. Where I was jumped into view.
I now knew why there was no snow. Why the air smelled of Morgan.
I was in a cave.
Black and burnt sienna rock surrounded me. I scanned the large circular room but found nothing more than the fire and a small hole in the wall across from me that looked to be a goblin’s tunnel—too small to be a way out. I didn’t like goblins. They were nasty creatures without loyalty and worth.
“You’re awake.” A woman’s voice said. She appeared in front of me, out of nowhere, and stared at me. “Good. Now we can begin.”
“What?” My question hung in the humid air. I felt so helpless laying on the ground, unable to move, even though nothing physically bound me. I wanted to jump up and rip her face off. How dare she kidnap me and bring me to this damn place, smelling of Morgan and the smokey worm.
“You are an innocent, aren’t you?” She swept the folds of her long, grey-silver dress to the side, while she circled the fire. She tossed herbs and small animal bones into the scorching flames, each piece disintegrating to sparkling dust before disappearing. A musky, rotten stench creeped into the air. I coughed.
“Why am I here? What do you want with me?” I said, as I thrashed and writhed on the ground, trying to break free. My attempts were barely acknowledged by my body; the magic that bound me was powerful.
“The little doe wants to run away,” the woman said and rubbed her hands together over the fire, bits of herb fell from her skin.
“Tell me what is going on!” I yelled, straining to move, to sit up. “Who are you and what do you want?”
“Ever hear of the Monnelola people?” She turned to me, her expression friendly and curious, as if she conversed with a friend. A thick accent, one I couldn’t readily place, clipped her words and the rich alto tones of her voice created a soothing cadence that lulled my angst. I fought the comfort her voice offered, knowing it to be a trick, another way of her controlling my person.
“Well, have you?”
“Yes, my grandmother told me stories. An evil people that almost destroyed our world. If it hadn’t been for the Liberators—”
Her friendly face morphed into pure rage. Her eyes bulged. Her nostrils flared. A deep, painful heat pinpricked my chest. I wrestled to move, to shield myself from her piercing eyes, but to no avail. Then her face relaxed and the heat in my chest lessened and disappeared.
“What else did your grandmother tell you?” she said, her voice resuming its casual manner.
I hesitated to answer, not wanting to burn again.
“She said they were powerful and ruled the Kambra,” I said and then added, “They’re extinct now.” Tension tightened my shoulders at the inevitable heat to come, but her expression stayed neutral and no heat resonated. She continued to move about the cave collecting what she needed for her fire.
“Some of what you say is true. Except for their extinction.” The fire transformed from an orangish-red to a bright purple with hues of lemon at the flame’s tips.
“I don’t understand.” My eyes followed the fire’s waves as the flames swayed back and forth, licking the air with brilliant color that kept changing with each new ingredient she threw in.
“I am of the Monnelola people,” she said and threw a human leg bone into her fiery brew.
“That can’t be.” I shifted my eyes from the flame’s metamorphosis and stared at her. She couldn’t be Monnelola. They were gone. Annihilated. There was no way any of them could could still be alive after all this time.
But if she was . . .
I recalled flashes of stories grandmother told when I was naughty, when she wanted to scare me into better behavior. The time of the Monnelola was dark and evil. The Kambra roamed the land and ate their keep, and the Monnelola ruled without mercy or care. New fear rushed my veins. If what she says is true, we’re all doomed.
She went to the goblin’s tunnel and stuck her arm up to the shoulder. A sick, sucking sound echoed out from the blackness. I shrieked. She pulled her hand free. A gooey substance dripped from her arm, the color of luminescent algae at the bottom of an alpine lake.
She tossed a humorous glance at me as she made her way to the fire. She carefully extended her arm into the roaring flames. I shuddered, expecting her skin to melt, her to catch fire, but nothing of the sort happened. She twisted her head to me and winked.
“The Liberators were cowards, murdered us in our sleep.” She spat a glob of phlegm into the flames. “Cowards. They couldn’t face us, never could have beaten us otherwise.”
She pulled her broiled arm from the fire, the gooey substance had burned away but her skin and clothing were untouched, normal. She stretched her arms out on either side of her and swimming orbs of translucent yellow filled the palms of her hands. Her stunningly short hair, formidable auburn spikes that jutted from her head, glowed under the orb’s light.
She clapped her hands together and a tremendous crack of sound broke through the shuttered cave. Forceful wind hit my face and blew my hair back. My hands quaked with terror. There was no surviving this, was there?
“Those of us who lived hid in the shadows, biding our time, until we grew strong enough to return.” Without seeing her move, she crouched in front of me, her face close enough for me to see the color of her eyes—an endless, pulsating grayness that swirled like a tornado in the flatlands.
She ran her index finger along my temple down my jaw. Every part of me trembled and wanted to look away, but I held her stare and petitioned Many Gods for strength and courage.
“The Liberators are dead now, are they not?” She gently held my chin and touched my closed lips with the pad of her thumb. “You have very supple skin. Delectable.” A wicked smile split her lips in a wide grin, her teeth flashed white—sharpened points similar to her hair.
My breath caught in my throat. She was of the Monnelola people, only they looked as if the Kambra inhabited their human form. And then, as if her closeness and caresses were imagined, she stood at the fire again, gazing into the ever changing array of color.
“What do you want with me?” I steadied the inflection of my voice, hoping my fear didn’t show.
“Because I need the ancestral properties that were passed on to you. Your line holds great power, not a power such as mine, but a power that is needed for me to bring my people back. The clincher of the Liberator’s plan, you could say.” She moved to the other side of the cave where a large cabinet stood. A huge metal lock secured its contents.
The lock clattered to the floor, shaking the ground beneath me, and the cabinet doors swung open.
“Sebastian?” I whispered in disbelief.
“Sarah!” Sebastian cried, his deep voice raspy and choked with anger. He lunged at the woman, his teeth gritted and his blue eyes bulging with effort. She side stepped his lunge and laughed.
“Sebastian!” I wrestled to move from where I lay but no matter what I did I remained where I was. Tears wetted my cheeks. My breath came in short inhales and exhales. I wanted to run to him, pull him into my arms.
But to see his face, the sweep of his blond wavy hair, the bristle that outlined his jaw, his sea-blue eyes that locked with mine, his barrel chest, and his stout strong thighs. To lay eyes on him one more time rocketed my heart to the sky. My sweet, sweet Sebastian.
Unbearable, ever growing, anger roiled at my center and roared out of me. “Let him go, you fucking bitch!”
The woman threw back her head and cackled, both hands holding her flat stomach. The cave amplified her enjoyment and bounced from wall to wall, a never ending symphony.
She snapped her head in my direction, her laugher abruptly gone. “It’s time to get started.”
“Don’t you dare touch my wife.”
“I’m not going to touch her. I’ll leave that to you.” She grinned, her pointed teeth glinted with the raging fire’s variant light.
She flung her left hand toward me, her fingers drawn into claws, her fingernails long and unpainted. She muttered words unknown to me. My body became weightless. I rose off the ground, specks of dirt and pebbles, once adhered to my skin and clothing, fell from me like sleet.
I writhed and wriggled but nothing came of my efforts. I floated several feet off the floor and then, with a flick of her wrist, I moved over the fire, its flames surrounding me.
Vibrant flames engulfed my vision. Intense heat stole my breath. And then, as quick as I went into the flames, I emerged on the other side of the bonfire, unburnt, like her arm. I pulled a deep breath into my lungs, as if I hadn’t breathed for decades.
I saw now that she moved me, feet first, toward the black hole.
“Let her go!” I heard Sebastian shout, a mantra his hoarse voice couldn’t maintain. His voice cracked and then died into a barely audible whisper. I could hear him shifting where he stood, trying to escape, save me from this damn woman and her abominable plans.
My mouth opened to scream, to yell something reassuring to him, let him know I loved him, but no sound came. The woman had silenced me.
My feet entered the hole and disappeared into the black, as if the hole’s shadows were alive themselves, and hungry. I urged my muscles to move, for my legs to kick, for my hands to grab and scrape, but nothing happened.
I was helpless. My body slowly inched its way further into the ever devouring blackness. I petitioned Many Gods again and again. I will do anything, please help me.
What if the worm lived in the tunnel? What if it wasn’t goblins at all? Terrifying images overwhelmed my thoughts, the worm slithering under one of my toenails, piercing my skin with its smokey form, taking over my mind and heart.
My insertion into the tunnel ended at my shoulders. My head stayed suspended in the air resting on nothing. I couldn’t move my head just stare at the rocky ceiling, where the fire’s dance illuminated and shimmied over the uneven texture of the cave.
Sebastian’s shuffling ceased. His whispered cries silenced. What was happening to him? I couldn’t yell out to him. I was stuck and scared and so damn powerless it felt like my soul would burst from my body into a million pieces.
But I didn’t burst.
I didn’t do anything, except lay there, straining my ears to hear what I could, which for now was only silence. I shut my eyes, not willing to see anymore, trying to resign myself to this fate that was now mine.
I conjured all my love for Sebastian and imagined it swimming out of me toward him, wrapping him in a long winding cloth of memory and love. Please, Many Gods, keep him safe. Help him be brave. Help him not feel any pain.
Something grabbed my neck, like a rope but more pliable, similar to bread dough. It tightened. I gasped. My hands were immobile, secured to my sides, unable to help me. I fought to breathe and willed my body to move.
That’s when I heard the same sick, sucking sound from earlier, when she had stuck her arm into the tunnel.
Something touched me.
Down at my feet.
Something warm and nauseating.
It moved up my leg to my torso, slowly blanketing me with its sour smell and nauseating warmth. I squirmed in place, trying to breathe, to escape, but I made no progress.
Dizziness blurred the ceiling. Sharp pain shot out from my chest.
A loud bang shattered the death grip on my neck. Musty cave air flooded my nose and mouth. My hands sprang to my throat.
I could move!
I pushed with all the strength I had and scooted out of the tunnel. The warm, nauseating blanket clung to my legs. I shoved and pushed harder. I toppled out of the goblin’s tunnel onto my back and scrambled backward to the fire’s ring. There was no goo on me. Thank you, Many Gods.
Red eyes peered out of the tunnel, angry and lustful. Don’t follow me. Don’t come out. I kicked my feet and propelled myself closer and closer to the fire.
A high-pitched scream ripped through the cave. I clamped my hands over my ears and curled into a ball, as the scream scavenged for my sanity. All thoughts deserted me, except for one word.
The screaming halted. I opened my eyes. The blazing fire had diminished in size, now no more than a campfire. The woman was impaled with a long hunting spear that secured her to the wall that faced me.
Cranberry red blood gushed from her abdomen and the corners of her eyes. For a moment, she looked as if she pleaded with me to help her. Her eyes bloody and urgent. Her mouth speaking in a desperate whisper I could not hear.
A scurrying sound startled me. I looked toward the tunnel, scared that the red eyes would no longer be in the tunnel but next to me, its gnashing teeth poised to kill me.
But the intense red eyes remained in the tunnel, receding, leaving the tunnel’s opening black and empty. I returned my gaze to the woman, glad the red eyes had retreated. A last sigh of life issued from between the woman’s full lips, and then her head lolled on her chest.
She was dead.
“Sarah,” Sebastian croaked, his hands cradling my face, his eyes searching mine. “Are you alright?” He patted my body, scouring my form for damage and blood.
“I’m fine.” I clung to him, wanting him close, never to leave. His strong arms encircled me. His scratchy stubble scraped my cheek. His clothes were tattered and filthy, the same clothes he had worn the day he drowned.
“Wait.” I pushed him to arms length. “You drowned.”
“I never did. She’s had me the entire time. Her captive.” His brow scrunched with resentment, but his expression softened when he swept the back of his hand across my cheek to my lips. He pulled me to him, our lips brushing, until our want for one another forced our connection.
Fierce desire and joy surged my limbs and mind. “Take me,” I said. I went to unbuckle his trousers, but he stopped me.
“Not here. Let’s go home.”
I nodded. He was right. We could reconcile the lost time at home, where we belonged, without the red-eyed demon snitching looks from that damn tunnel. It seemed odd now to think that I would lay with my husband on the bloody floor with that atrocity watching.
What had come over me? And why did that damn smell of the smokey worm still infiltrate my mind? The sorceress was dead.
I shook my head, not wanting to think anymore. Too many things had happened. Too many questions rumbled my thoughts. No more thinking. Things were better. Sebastian was alive, next to me, gathering my pack, protecting me. We would think later, when we were home, naked and alone, with one another.
Sebastian took my hand and led me from the cave.