Artist Credit: DenisZhBankov
“I’m so tired of the rain,” I said, pulling my jacket in tighter. “Does it ever stop?”
“I don’t know,” Jesse replied, “Supposedly, this place was cursed when it fell. The locals said they have never seen the sun on this forest.”
“You’re sure it’s out here?” I asked, looking up at the sky that was beginning to change from orange to red.
“Every account I found at the Great Library said it was out here somewhere. The village back there also said there’s something out here-though they are all too afraid to venture this far,” she replied.
The trail suddenly opened to a clearing as though we had walked through a doorway. Sitting at the bottom of a shallow valley were massive stone blocks that had fallen over. The water on the ground ran together and created small creeks that ran into the valley.
“Check it out!” Jesse said, pulling her horse to a stop.
“It only took three days,” I grumbled.
“Quit being so dramatic, Mark. You know there’s a good reason we came out here,” she said, dropping from her mount.
“You know I can’t stop that,” I said as I dismounted and grabbed my gear from the back of the horse. “Do you think we should make camp and go in at first light?”
“We’re here, and there’s likely a dry spot somewhere in all that,” she said, pulling her pack onto her shoulders. She turned to the horses, “You two stay out of trouble now. If things get hairy, go back to town. We can meet you there.”
Both horses snorted and nodded to my amazement.
“You can talk to them?” I asked.
“They are incredibly smart creatures,” she replied, winking at me. “Let’s go.”
“Wait-what about-oh never mind,” I protested as I left the horses unhitched and followed her down the hill. “You think he’s really down here? This place looks like it was decimated and forgotten forever ago.”
“He’s down here,” Jesse replied. She stopped walking, looked up, and turned her back to me. “Grab my lantern, will you? I think we’re going to need it sooner than I thought.”
I unhooked the lantern and handed it to her. Using my body as a shield, she managed to get the lamp to light on the third try. It’s golden light bathed the stones we passed. The deeper we got, the less it looked like a valley, and the more it looked like a meteor crater.
“Would you look at that?” Jesse said, pointing to a massive monolith lying on its side. The end closest to us was nearly ten feet tall, and the far end had to be five hundred feet away.
“Tell me the story again,” I said, hearing the rain run off the rocks. My mind was imagining tiny creatures running through the ruins splashing in the water. “I need something to distract me.”
“Are you getting scared?” she asked, winking at me.
“My imagination is getting the better of me. You know how it works,” I said shrugging. “I’d rather get distracted than start freaking myself out.”
“One sec,” Jesse said as she ducked around a corner.
“Hey!” I called after her, “Don’t leave me here by myself.
“Mark! Come here!” she called back.
I ran to catch up to her and found her looking under the fallen monument. In front of her, it looked like a sleeping giant. Its skin reflected the amber color of the light, but as Jesse stepped closer, it became evident the creature’s skin was grey.
“How did it get here?” I asked.
“The monolith probably fell on it,” Jesse said as she crept closer.
“Don’t get too close,” I said, thinking about the thing’s eyes snapping open and it eating her in a single bite.
“It’s fine, Mark. You need to relax. This guy is a friend,” she said, extending her hand.
“Wait, you think it’s alive?” I asked, taking an unintentional step forward. “This place fell a thousand years ago. There’s no way.”
“These guys don’t die,” Jesse said as her hand touched the creature’s forehead.
“Fuck off,” I said as the creature’s eyes weakly blinked at her. Its eyes stood out in contrast to its skin. Its eyes looked as though it were a star map of the sky—Black with white, amber, and blue specks all through it.
“Alu franti seef,” the creature whispered at us.
“We don’t speak your language,” Jesse said, “but we’re friends. I’ve been searching for you for a long time.”
“I’m weak,” it managed.
“How the hell does it know our language?” I asked.
“H-how long-” It faltered for a moment, “has it been?”
“Our best guess is that the city fell a millennia ago,” Jesse said, ignoring my question.
“I need food,” it said.
Jesse pulled her pack around to the front and dropped it on the ground. She fished around on the inside for a moment and withdrew a small glass jar. She walked to the creature’s mouth and looked back up at his eyes.
“They don’t look like much,” she said, shaking the little berries around inside, “but they are good. Open up.”
The creature’s mouth opened like a carriage house. It could have eaten either of the horses whole. Jesse pulled the lid off the jar and tossed a dozen berries in its mouth. It closed its lips and simply swallowed.
“Give it a second,” Jesse said. “They will work.”
“Who are you?” the creature asked.
“I’m Nyakyo, of the Cloud Conclave,” Jesse said, “but people call me Jesse. My friend here is Kihia or Mark to the common folk.”
“The conclave survives?” the creature asked. “I’m surprised. Then you would know my name as well.”
Jesse shook her head.
“Xaphan. My name is Xaphan. I was once a priest here,” he said.
“What are you talking about?” I asked, walking up next to her. “What conclave?”
Jesse reached out and touched my forehead. The flood of information was immediate and overwhelming. I remembered my parents for the first time and the men that attacked in the night when I was a baby. I remembered them taking me away and bringing me to the orphanage where I had grown up.
“W-why?” I asked, finding myself on my knees. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I couldn’t,” Jesse said. “You wouldn’t have believed me. It’s only in this place that I could show you. Through Xaphan’s power.”
“Xaphan, I’m so sorry,” I said, looking at him. The creature I had just been so terrified of now seemed like a child I had lost. “I can make this right.”
I climbed Xaphan’s pinned arm carefully until I could reach the stone, “I know why you brought me now,” I said as I gently touched the surface of the rock.
I felt it rise through me, thousands of tiny feet echoing around us out in the rain. They weren’t my imagination. They were flytes. Tiny celestial creatures. They were funneling their power through me. My hand caressed the stone, and a deafening crack resonated through the air, followed by a million more as the stone collapsed into powder. I felt all the strength pulled from me, and I collapsed, rolling down Xaphan’s massive form.
“I got ya,” Jesse said, catching me at the bottom, “You did well.”
Xaphan moved an arm experimentally, and after deciding it was strong enough, pushed himself to a seated position, letting the rain soak him. His skin became a bright white, and he smiled warmly at us as he reached out, holding his hand above us to shield us from the rain.
“Sleep now,” he said.