30/366 – The Dark Place

Continued from 29/366 – Fifteen Days (Cont.)

Morn walked with Jaque, Celeste, and Archmage Koldian, but he felt the knot in his stomach returning. He knew that where they were heading was a place that he had never been willing to go. The place where his mother had died when he was a small child. The thought of going there made his stomach turn and threaten to evacuate everything he had eaten from his body.

“It’ll be okay,” Celeste whispered, rubbing his back. “There’s no reason to think about it too much. She’s alive now, and we need to keep her that way.”

Morn nodded and swallowed hard, still forcing one foot in front of the other.

Jaque and Koldian walked behind them, chatting away discussing magical theory and the practical application of elemental stones until they arrived at the gate to the town.

“Halt,” a guard said as he appeared from a small alcove. The armor he wore didn’t fit him well, so it shifted slightly when he lifted his arm. He kept his head tilted back too far so the helmet wouldn’t fall forward, blocking his view. “I must advise you to not travel outside the walls at this point. The zombies are still roaming around out there.”

“They are with me, good-sir-guard,” Archmage Koldian said, striding forward. “We have to leave the town to collect something valuable to a friend.”

“I apologize, Archmage,” the guard replied, stepping to the side. “I didn’t realize you were traveling with them.”

“He looks familiar,” Celeste whispered in Morn’s ear. “I think we went to school with him.”

“That’s Kile Blatron,” Jaque said, “His father was killed in the zombie attack, and has taken up his post here at the wall.”

Morn felt a stab of guilt as he watched the boy struggle to maintain the armor he wore. He still thought that it was his fault that everything had happened the way it had. He wondered how fair it was that he was putting in so much work to keep a parent he had lost while so many others didn’t get back what was taken from them.

“You’re cleared to leave,” Kile said, adjusting his helmet as it shifted forward once more.

Koldian bowed slightly and motioned for the others to follow. Morn realized as they passed under the portcullis that he had never stepped foot outside the town. His father occasionally had to travel to the next town over, but Morn had always stayed behind.

Morn had never seen anything so intimidating in his life as outside the walls of the town. The fields stretched on for miles in every direction. For a moment, he imagined that it was like the sea in some of the books he had read. Giant waves rolling through the high grass fueled by the wind. In the distance, trees stood in dark contrast to the golds and yellows before him.

“It’s beautiful,” Celeste said.

“Never been outside the walls, eh?” Koldian said. “It gets a lot bigger the further you go. There are mountains so tall that you can’t see the tops of them through the clouds. Oceans so large they seem to go on forever when you’re out there swaying on the ship.”

“This way,” Jaque said, continuing down the road. “We should keep moving. If there are zombies out here in the high grass, it’ll be better if we keep moving.”

“I’m not afraid of a zombie, young man,” Koldian said, falling in step with Jaque. “Have you ever met a dragon? That’s something to be scared of!”

Archmage Koldian continued to regale them with tales of his travels as they walked for over an hour to the edge of the forest. The canopy above the trees stole the light from inside, plunging them into darkness as they walked in.

“Don’t worry about this,” Koldian said as Morn heard his staff knock against a tree. The top of his staff flared to life, shedding bright white light. “That’s better. Now, it should be just a little ways off the road up here.”

Celeste grabbed Morn’s hand and squeezed it tight as she gave him an encouraging smile. They followed Koldian up to a small clearing where the trees thinned into something about fifty feet wide. Morn could see scorch marks on the trees surrounding them. He even thought he could smell the fire.

“This seems about right,” Koldian said, turning to face Morn, “Is this where it happened?”

Morn nodded, “I-I think so.”

“Look at that!” Koldian said, approaching one of the trees. “She must have been a powerful sorcerer indeed to burn these trees like this. Living wood doesn’t burn all that easily.”

Koldian snapped his fingers, producing the blackboard once more. The equations were still covering its surface.

“Here we are. So if this is correct, then we should be looking that way,” Koldian said, pointing to the far side of the clearing. “Do any of you know about any caves or caverns around here? Perhaps even sinkholes?”

Morn, Celeste, and Jaque all shook their heads.

“Very well, I suppose we should start searching then. I doubt it’ll be this close to its origin point, but you can never be too careful,” Koldian said, scanning around him, “It shouldn’t be too hard to find if it’s on the surface. It’ll be a small fire that you can’t put out.”

“I smelled smoke,” Morn said, “when we entered the clearing. Do you think that it might be the stone?”

“Can’t hurt to check,” Koldian said, “Lead the way.”

Morn walked back to where he first thought he smelled the smoke, but after a little investigating, Koldian determined that the source was the wind direction coming through the clearing.

They walked through the clearing and back into the forest on the far side. They wove their way through thickets and underbrush that blocked the way, every few steps stopping to scan once more for fire.

Twenty minutes later, they came across a series of stacked boulders, each easily the size of a horse. In the center of the stacked pile stood an entrance to a cave. Koldian moved his staff near the mouth of it and found a steep decline just inside.

“It looks like we’re going in,” Koldian said, “I hope you’re ready. This is where it really gets interesting.”

Continued 31/366 – The Dark Place (Cont.)

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