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“I have found her.” Tyrtain’s eyes snapped open and looked about the room. Veximarl was passed out next to the dying fire and the Alton was partially propped up against the wall. “Awaken!”

Sputtering, Veximarl sat up quickly. His head snapped towards Tyrtain. “Yes..? How is she?”

“Alive?” Tyrtain shrugged.

Alton cracked his neck and sat up. He shouldn’t have slept in that position. His body was aching everywhere. “Where is she?” The sooner he knew, the sooner they could unsummon this golem before he went power crazy and went about destroying everything again.

“Book.”

Tyrtain held out his hand. Alton and Veximarl then looked at each other. Veximarl fumbled to get the golem notebook and handed that to Tyrtain. The god flipped through it until he found where the blank pages started. His hand ran over the page and burned an image into it. This was done to a few pages before he handed it back to Veximarl. Alton snatched it away before Veximarl had a chance to look at the maps.

“She is near Mareth.” Alton pointed to a page. “That’s the lake where I camped last summer. If we ride hard, we can get there around lunch time.” The mules would be able to trudge through the snow without issue. Traveling fast won’t be an issue.

“Then we will leave immediately.” Veximarl bowed to Tyrtain. “I will be forever grateful for this boon you have granted us. It is time that we find a way to return you to your previous form.”

Tyrtain bowed in return. “It is better for these lands that I reclaim the power that I have lost. I will be forever grateful for the body that you have granted me. Best of luck in your ventures.”

“No! Wait!” Alton reached for his sword, but Tyrtain was swallowed up in a hole that had formed in the ground beneath him. He scrambled forward in an effort to catch up, but the hole sealed itself just as quickly as it had opened. “... He ran away, Vex.”

Veximarl’s face had somehow gone paler. “... I am well aware of that, Alton.” A long hiss escaped between Alton’s teeth. “I will take full responsibility for this blunder later. We must go find Sybil.”

Alton paused. “... Are we going to get Chi and Zan first?”

Veximarl shook his head. “If this ends up going poorly, Alton, we will no doubt be asked to leave the barracks.”

“Things going mad is a perfect reason why we should have backup.”

Veximarl’s hand tensed up around the spear for a moment. “You have seen what I am capable of. If matters result in a fight, it is best that I be allowed to cast without worry for the safety of those around me. You are clever enough to stay out of the way, but Zani may not view it that way.

Nor am I strong enough to stop Chi if the worst has already happened to Sybil. None of us are. So let us deal with it as best we can on our own and seek out the knights in Mareth if backup is needed.”

They took the mules and sped along the landscape. Alton was prepared for war. He had put on his armor and kept his collar strapped on. Much to Veximarl’s annoyance, Alton had forced him to do the same. There could be guards or the elementalist could be lying in wait. Veximarl preferred flexibility, especially while riding. It didn’t matter if Alton discovered he was a necromancer at this point, he was going to enter that fight with everything he had.

It was early afternoon by the time they had reached their destination. Alton led the mules to the lake and broke away the ice so they could have a drink. Veximarl went to scout, using Alex and Rite to assist. There weren’t any clear signs that people were present. The occasional rabbit or fox tracks in the snow, but nothing bigger. However, they continued on until they reached the spot where Tyrtain claimed Sybil to be.

They found themselves in an open grove among the trees. There were boulders of varying sizes lying about, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The more Alton looked, the more frustrated he became. He sought to satisfy his crankiness by fetching a bit of jerky out of one of the packs.

“That stupid golem lied to us!” He tore a bite off with his teeth and chewed on it furiously.

Why would he lie? Veximarl couldn’t think of a reason that would benefit Tyrtain. “Perhaps they relocated her?” Alton furrowed his brows at him. “I’m certain that Tyrtain believed she was here at some point.” He immediately became distracted by a nearby shrub. “There’s hyssop here!”

“Why does that matter?”

Veximarl carefully examined the bush before cutting off some of the twigs with a knife. “It has some minor medicinal uses and Miss Hewitt stated that it’s often used in Clay Region cuisine. She was planning on starting her own herb garden next spring and this would make for a fine addition.”

Alton didn’t respond. He was fuming. Veximarl was attempting to keep his thoughts preoccupied in order to prevent himself from flying into a full-blown panic. That was fine and all, but it made Alton want to throttle him halfway into the afterlife.

His gaze went over to Lydia. She had stopped by the underhang of one of the larger boulders. “Over here, Alton!” Her hand waved about the air to get his attention.

Alton wandered over and bent down low. He could barely make out something yellow and began to dig it out of the snow. There were dandelions growing near a hole in the ground, and their leaves were rustling to an unseen wind.

“Vex!”

As Lydia sunk into the ground, Veximarl jogged over to see what Alton was looking at. “Are those air vents?” He awkwardly stuck his head as far as he could towards the base of the boulder. “Sybil! Sybil, are you there?!”

The two of them rotated their heads, ears facing the opening. There wasn’t any response. They both exchanged a look. Alton stood up. He needed to pace about while he thought of a solution to their problem. His hand clasped over his mouth to prevent himself from crying out when Lydia popped back out of the snow.

“She’s quite far underground. At the aquifer level! You’ll need a skilled mage to pull her out safely. No need to panic though. There isn’t a need to rush, other than the fact that we don’t know when her kidnappers are returning. Considering how much food she had been left with, I believe that it might be some time.”

“If this is our situation, then it won’t be an issue to fetch Chi and Zan,” said Veximarl. “Though it does bother me that Tyrtain never specified that she had been hidden underground, or the fact that she was unguarded. It would have saved us a considerable amount of trouble.”

Alton shook his head and held up his letter. “Even if we message him now, he won’t be able to get here safely today. We’ll go into Mareth and see if we can find a mage who can help us.”

Veximarl was hesitant to agree. “Sir Stonetoe may still be within Mareth. We will report to him and he will be able to assist. However, we must also consider the fact that a force of elementalists have been constructing barricades within the Crimson Region. It’s likely that any useful mages have been conscripted for that purpose.”

“I don’t think we thought this through as well as we should have.”

They had the time to come up with a better plan. Kidnapping Zaniyah and Chickadee would’ve delayed their journey, but now they’ve shot an arrow in their foot. Saving Sybil was the priority, not keeping their other friends out of trouble. Even if Veximarl would disagree with Alton’s thoughts on the subjects, it’s what the squire believed.

“That is true. By going renegade, we have heavily limited our available resources. It’s possible that we are quite bad at this.”

“We’re terrible at this. Why are we so terrible at this?” Alton couldn’t grasp his head around it. “It seemed simple. We get here, we get her, we get out. How is this so difficult?” Maybe spending time with Zaniyah had made her impulsiveness and lack of foresight wear off on him.

Lydia floated in front of Alton. “Calm down. Regroup your thoughts. You already know what you have to do.”

“Right.” Alton took a deep breath. “One of the knights would have stayed behind in Mareth while the other would have gone ahead. Do we have any idea who is there?” Veximarl shrugged. “We can’t haphazardly run around asking for a mage. The kidnappers might have men posted in Mareth who will figure out that we’re from Braytons. We have no choice but to contact one of our knights.”

“Exactly. We’re first years,” nodded Veximarl in agreement. “We may not be allowed to be here but it is likely we will be safe if we tell them Sybil’s location.”

“Tomorrow is Satyrday. That’s our free day. We can do whatever we want on our free day,” replied Alton.

“Excellent observation, Alton.” Veximarl looked around once more. “There is no point in stalling. We should head to Mareth... Are you ready?”

“Yeah… Yeah, let’s go. I know a place we can stay.”

 

---

 

Like with animals, Sybil was not good with children. The way Felix described his past and his family was more akin to a made up story rather than the truth. Several parts of it seemed untrue, but keeping him talking about himself was better than having him ask questions about his lovelife.

He didn’t talk a lot about his parents. His oldest sister, Semira, raised him for the most part. Felix didn’t mention the names of his other two siblings. One was a soldier who was already off fighting before Felix was born. The other sister, the idiot, was someone he loathed a great deal, but they appeared to be close in age.

Semira was someone who Felix admired a great deal. She supposedly worked in a forge, but Felix hadn’t seen her in some time. Part of the reason he wanted to set out on his own was because he didn’t really have anyone now and wanted to start early on his apprenticeship as a tailor.

The more he talked, the more Sybil began to believe her theory. One that involved a massive serpent with antlers that often fought with a winged tiger. Their fights would conjure storms that plagued the town of Herring, but this year, Alton seemingly convinced them to end their feuding and begin a new game. Live one lifetime as a human, and do it better than the other one.

This was the beginning of Sybil’s personal dilemma. Everyone had thought that they wouldn’t know anything until next summer. Either the storms would return or they didn’t. Either way, none of them expected to run into one of the great beasts in their human form.

If Felix was the serpent, how was he able to change? Was it even safe to bring up such questions? What if he were to suddenly turn back into a beast and gobble her up rather than risk his secret being revealed? He did seem friendly enough but there was always the chance that could change.

The room rumbled and Sybil braced herself against the floor. Next to her, the wall began to bubble and bulge. What she thought had been slavers was suddenly a new threat. Stone layers peeled open to reveal a dark-skinned man wearing an ill-fitting robe. He took a moment to look around before his oddly colored eyes fell on Sybil.

“Greetings, Twist.” The deep rumbling of his voice was eerily familiar, even if the body it resonated from was different.

She began to back away and into the opposing wall. “... Tyrtain?” Was Veximarl so desperate to find her that he would use the golem without her?

“Worry not. I am not here for you.” His head snapped towards Felix, who had been hiding in the corner, and his face shifted into a cruel grin. “A moment. I am going to talk to this one first.” Tyrtain looked to Sybil again. “You helped create this body, correct? I imagine that the prophet who activated the soul gem wasn’t able to do it alone.”

“... I helped, yes,” she quietly muttered. This wasn’t the way he was supposed to appear. Why was he flesh? He should have been identical to Foggy’s appearance.

Tyrtain gave an appreciative bow. “Then I owe you another boon. Do not ask for escape. Your allies are working on it already.”

“Then may I ask that you find a way to purge the tainted mist from Carapace.” Tyrtain was powerful, was he not? Was he capable of doing something like that?

Tyrtain shook his head. “Due to my affliction, my influence of power only exists within this region. I am incapable of fulfilling your request. However, I will grant you the information you need to achieve purification yourself.” Sybil bobbled her head up and down in agreement. “Miasma looms when the god’s influence has waned. The lands will remain tainted until the gods regain their strength or a new one takes their place.”

That was easy. Surely there were plenty of gods lying about that she could stuff inside Carapace. Her face twisted up at the impossibility of her task. Then again, she had managed to help Tyrtain. Maybe it wouldn’t be so difficult?

“... Alright,” she replied.

“Then I will consider the boon paid.” Tyrtain nodded to himself, but Sybil didn’t think he did anything. “I will be taking my rightful place as this land’s god and taking this one with me.” He gestured to Felix.

Felix’s eye twitched. He was frightened to the point where he was unable to speak. Tyrtain started to walk towards the boy and Felix scrambled to press himself as firmly as he could against the wall.

“Wait! I need his help to survive in here!” Tyrtain only said that help was coming, not when it would be here.

“Then you should have asked for that as your boon.” Tyrtain put his hand against the wall and Felix vanished with a scream through the newly appeared hole. “Do take care in rationing your remaining reserves.”

Another hole opened and he slipped into it. Soon the stones around her were whole again and she was all alone. Sybil stood there dumbfounded. She clutched at her chest and tried to gather her thoughts. Without Felix, she should still have enough food to last for a few days.

The water from the aquifer was fresh, but it had traces of miasma in it. Sybil decided that she should only drink if she started to feel a headache come around, and only to eat if she started to feel weak. Even then, she had no idea how long the food would stay fresh. Felix said that it would last long enough, but she didn’t know if he was using magic to keep it that way.

She began to worry about cave disease. People in the core sometimes got lost in the caverns and would lose their minds in the darkness. It was possible she would keep pushing off drinking water thinking that she would be fine until later, or put off eating no matter how hungry she got. There was still her pocket watch though. Maybe she should attempt to drink every four hours.

Her worries did nothing but double as she pulled her cloak around herself. The room had gotten so cold since Felix left. She wondered if she was going to freeze to death before help managed to arrive. Her hand twisted her ring about her finger, hoping to feel some sign of rescue happening.

… And then it happened. A faint pulse was felt through it. Sybil stared down at her hand as the pulse began to quicken. Surely this was an illusion or her mind. It was telling her that hope was coming. Spilling lies in her head in order to force her into further despair.

Then she heard a voice that sounded like someone. It was muffled and hard to make out. She rushed over to one of the vents and put her ear near it. Though it was hard to hear, it nearly sounded like someone was calling her name.

“Toval!” Sybil shouted into the vent. “Are you there?! I can’t hear you very well!”

No response. Maybe they couldn’t hear her? Sybil doubled her efforts to shout while jumping up and down, but the pulsing in her ring faded away. Maybe they overlooked the dandelions Felix had sent up there. Or they didn’t have a mage and would return with one. She was noticed and they were going to come back with the help she needed.

Sybil flopped onto her side and laid still. It wasn’t a trick of the mind... It couldn’t be. There were people coming for her. There just had to be.

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About the author

Adelaide West

Bio: Author of the Grimstone Series and Duck and Wolf.

I have a Twitter. I check it often, so I guess tag me anytime you want. I just don't post very often. @AdelaideGWest

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