A/N: As always, concrit and title suggestions are welcome! Thank you for reading! If this chapter had a name, I would probably call it "That Escalated Quickly", haha.
The next morning, Hara awoke to the usual sound of Calen’s snores. But something seemed…off. She felt unusually comfortable, and there was a mildewy scent permeating the air instead of the usual smell of morning dew.
“Huh?” She opened her eyes slowly, a bit scared of what she might see. The strange sight of furniture greeted her, and a pleasant, balmy draft blew in from the shattered window. Next to her, Perysta slept in silence, a contented look on her face. In the small bed, Calen let out a tired groan, rolled over, and promptly fell out of the bed. Hara gasped and bolted out of bed to help him.
“What’s happening?” His eyes flicked halfway open, and he rubbed his head, grimacing. “Where am I?”
Hara resisted the urge to laugh at the way his words sloshed together and helped him to his feet.
“I…had a really strange dream last night.” As he came to his senses, his usual eloquence returned.
“I don’t think it was a dream.” Hara let a tiny giggle leak out. “Look around.”
Calen cursed under his ( )eath. “So she’s real.”
“Of course she is! Why wouldn’t she be?”
Calen had no retort.
“Well, let’s get ready for the day.” Hara untied the strip of leather that held her strawberry-blonde ( )aid together and combed through her hair with her fingers.
“Why do you always say that? It’s not like we can wash up, or change into clean clothing.” Calen followed her lead, ( )iskly running his hand through his own nutmeg-( )own hair, which fell back exactly in the same place they had been before.
“It helps me stay optimistic, I guess. And don’t you say we can’t wash up. There’s always the river.” Hara wove her hair back into a ( )aid, and retied it. “So, what are we going to do about ( )eakfast?”
Her companion started to reply, but was interrupted by a yawn from the larger bed.
“It feels so nice to rest.” Perysta said, reaching down to put on two dainty slippers.
“Tell me about it.” Calen said. Hara cleared her throat.
“What are we going to do about ( )eakfast?”
“I’ll think of something.” Perysta said with a ( )ight smile. “Why don’t you explore a bit while I try and find someplace I can cook?”
“Alright.” Hara said. “Come on, Calen, let’s go!”
“Wait one moment, Hara.” Calen held up a finger. “Look, Fairy. I want this whole thing explained over ( )eakfast. You better make something fast, I don’t like wasting time.”
“It’ll be fast, I promise.” Perysta said with a nod. As Hara lead Calen out of the room, she could barely make out his reply.
“It had better be.”
They walked down the hallway, which looked entirely different in the morning light. They could see tiny plants growing in the cracks and crevices, and even saw a sparrow fly from the rafters as they walked through a doorway more elaborate than the rest.
“This must have been the throne room!” Hara said, examining the drafty room they were now in.
A dirt-caked fuchsia carpet ran down the center of the room, and moss coated most of the tile beneath their feet. At the southern end of the carpet was a throne they suspected must have once been silver. Over time, its shine had been replaced with an ugly tarnish, and instead of reflecting light like it ought to have, it completely ignored it, staying the same shade of dull, black-specked grey without any sort of shine.
Its cushion matched the carpet, and the velvet was rubbed away in some places, giving it a mangy appearance. Inlaid in its frame were prism-like gemstones, the only part of the whole chair that allowed light to bounce off of it.
Hara ran up and sat down on it, not caring that the cushion was slightly dampened. She ran her fingers over the delicate arms. “Isn’t it lovely, Calen?”
Calen followed her, but showed no spark of interest on his face. “Sure, sure.”
A low rumble sounded.
“Was that your stomach?” Calen asked. Hara blushed and shook her head.
“It was most likely the wind, nothing more.”
The noise happened again, and they noticed it sounded closer.
“I don’t think that’s the wind, Hara.”
“What could it be?”
“You know how I told you about those…creatures when we first came across this place?” Calen took Hara’s hand in his and gripped it tightly, turning his knuckles a ghastly shade of white.
“Yes, but—“ Hara tried in vain to pull her hand away as Calen pulled her forward. Fear danced on her spine with icy slippers, making her freeze in place.
There was another rumble, and this time it sounded like it came from the adjoining room.
“Hara, run.” The last word was a command. Hara picked up her pace to match Calen’s, but looked over her shoulder to see what was following them. That was a grave mistake.
A beast as big as an ape with a face to match lumbered after them at an alarming rate for a creature of its size and apparent weight. Its skin was a pale, sickly shade of blue, and was covered in warts and carbuncles, some of which were raw and oozed pus or blood. It loped along on all fours, but its front legs looked like they had once been arms, and had long, curling nails that looked as sharp as daggers.
Hara screamed, and Calen’s ( )eath audibly caught in his throat. Unable to do anything but run, they soon found themselves lost in the ruins.
“Perysta!” Calen tried calling the fairy, and Hara hoped with all her might that the castle kitchen wasn’t too far away for Perysta to hear him and come to their aid.
Incapable of forming words, Hara sobbed in terror instead. Calen lead her through a corridor and into some sort of closet, then turned her around to face him.
“Listen. I’ll go distract the beast. You go and try to find Perysta. She might know how to take that thing down.”
Hara quieted her sobs like a child being rebuked by her mother, nodding her head to show she understood.
“You good?” Calen patted her on the shoulder, and she nodded again, tears still leaking from her reddened, puffy eyes. “Alright, you can do this.”
And then she was alone, listening to her own whimpers and Calen’s shouts in the distance. Would he be alright? No, she mustn’t think about that. She had to find Perysta.
Find Perysta, find Perysta. The words drummed rythmically in her mind, beating out a tune of fear. Her feet pounded on the ground, perfectly in time with the mantra.
A hideous roar sounded in the distance, a strange hollow noise that was not unlike the growling of a mountain lion mixed with the hissing of a goose.
Hara shuddered and kept running, trying her hardest not to think about Calen.
Suddenly, she caught a whiff of something delicious, fresh ( )ead with hints of some spicy scent. Hope lit a fire in her heart, and she increased her speed.
“Perysta! Perysta, come quick!” Fear and urgency drove her into the kitchen, where she nearly knocked Perysta off her feet.
“What is it?” Perysta almost dropped the pan she was carrying, and the rolls on it slid off onto the floor with a thud.
“There’s something attacking Calen! He told me to come get you, and he’s still back somewhere near the throne room!” The words came tumbling out of Hara’s mouth faster than she could think them. Perysta deposited the pan on the stone counter and picked up her skirt with one hand.
“Do you remember the way you came?”
“Yes.” Hara said, her ( )eathing becoming more regular. Perysta gestured to the open door, and they began to run back through the corridors.
Hara’s heart was pounding so hard she thought it would burst open. The roars of the monster grew closer, and she listened for Calen’s voice. Nothing. She bit her lip and stopped in her tracks.
“What’re you stopping for? Keep going!” Perysta ran past her, and then doubled back.
“Alright…” Hara nervously inched forward, then stepped back again. “But…I’m scared. What if something happened to him? What if he’s…you know…dead?”
“Look, he seems smart. I think the worst that could happen in this situation is that we find him unconscious. It’ll be fine.”
Hara didn’t quite believe her, but the reassurance was enough to get her moving again. “Let’s go, then.”
They turned a corner, and there it was, staring them down with beady eyes. It was challenging them, daring them to come closer. But as she looked closer, she saw something. A spark of humanity shone through the hideous exterior, sending a tacit cry for help.
“Pitiful creature, isn’t it?” Perysta’s voice snapped Hara out of her thoughtful state.
“I said, it’s a pitiful creature, isn’t it?”
“I guess so.” Hara replied, simultaneously mesmerized and repulsed by the beast. “But why? It’s a monstrosity!”
“Hara…” Perysta spoke in the voice of a mother explaining death to a child. “That was once a fairy.”
Hara’s stomach twisted inside of her, and she felt a wave of nausea pass through her body.
“Perysta! Hara!” Calen’s hand became visible from behind a pillar closer to the beast. “I thought you would never get here.”
“You’re alive!” as the shriek escaped her, and she felt herself running to him, the sickening feelings dissolved into nothing. “Are you alright?”
“Hara, watch out!” she barely heard Perysta’s yell.
Claws swung down, crashing into the pillar behind her as she ducked and let out a scream. Calen caught her and pulled her to her feet.
“Don’t be so reckless! I’m fine.”
“Less talking, more running!” Perysta yelled, motioning for them to come back to her. “I’m going to have to take the creature out.”
“Can’t you reverse the effects of whatever curse it’s under?” Hara asked, surprising herself.
“You said it was a fairy once, right? Isn’t there some way you can save it? Restore it back to its former self?”
“Those affected by the Mÿtathys are lost to us forever, Hara.” Perysta closed her eyes.
“Mÿtathys? What’s this?” Calen skidded to a stop next to her, Hara in tow.
“I’ll explain later. Now quiet, I need to concentrate. Magic of the scale I’m about to do takes a lot of willpower.”
Hara gasped. “Magic?”
“Shh.” Calen put a hand over her mouth. “Let her focus.”
The monster roared, having finally dislodged its claws from the stone. It shook its head, looking for its prey. When it spotted them, it grunted, pawed the ground a few times, and then charged.
Hara wanted to scream, to run, to get out of the ruins as fast as she could. But something rooted her in place. She watched, entranced, as golden threads of magic blossomed from Perysta’s forehead and slithered down her outstretched arms. Perysta’s ( )ow furrowed, and her mouth cracked open in a grimace. More golden threads joined their ( )ethren, weaving themselves into thicker strands.
Perysta’s ( )eathing became heavier as the strands wrapped around her arms grew thicker and thicker, and the monster came ever nearer.
And then, just before it struck, a harsh flash of light erupted, and a shockwave knocked Hara and Calen flat on their backs. There was a thudding noise, and then deathly quiet filled the room.
“Is everyone alright?” Perysta’s call went unnoticed.
“Calen, I can’t see.” Hara whispered once the ringing in her ears had stopped.
“Well, me neither.”
“Is Perysta alright?” The blackness began to clear away, and Hara found her face inches away from Calen’s. She scrambled to her feet, surprised and a bit embarrassed. Then she glanced over at where Perysta had stood. The monster lay a little ways away, dead on the floor, and Perysta lay against the wall, which had partially crumbled from the impact of her body slamming against it. She shifted as if she couldn’t get comfortable, and a low groan of pain escaped her lips.
“Perysta!” Hara rushed to help her up.
“Hara, no.” Calen said from his spot on the ground. “We shouldn’t move her, we could cause more harm than good.”
Perysta’s lips parted, and she spoke with a raspy voice.
“Did it work?”
“You’re alive!” Hara tried with all her might not to fling herself onto the wounded lady. “Thank goodness!”
“I might not be for much longer.” Perysta’s muscles tensed as if she was trying to get up, and then they loosened again. “That spell took most of my remaining life force. If I use any more magic…”
“Can you get it back?” Hara asked, kneeling down next to her.
“Hara, that’s a stupid question.” Calen said with an exasperated sigh.
“Well, technically, I could regain some life force if an active fairy artifact was found.” Perysta said. She closed her eyes and sighed, her ( )ow knitting together.
“Active…fairy…artifact?” Calen reached up and ran a hand through his shaggy hair.
“I thought you knew about magic.”
“Human mages like to keep their secrets.” Hara allowed herself to laugh slightly. “It must be wonderful to live in a society where magic is…normal.”
“It’s not all that special.” Perysta made a noise like she was trying to laugh. “Now, back to the task at hand. Find something that glows…you’ll know one when you see one.”
The youths nodded, got up, and began to search. As Hara looked under large chunks of stone and toppled pillars, she noticed just how much damage the monster had caused. Colorful shattered glass was strewn here and there, causing drafts to enter through the ( )oken stained glass windows. Out of all of them, only one remained intact. It depicted a group of fairies gathered below a dark streak with their arms outstretched. Something about it disturbed Hara, but she shook her head and continued to search for an artifact.
She passed the corpse of the monster, trying not to gaze upon its body. But when she was in front of its head, something caught her eye.
“Calen!” She motioned him over.
“Did you find something?”
“Look…” She pointed to a gilded chain hanging from the beast’s neck. A glowing, opalescent pendant sat in the center, attached with nothing but a strip of leather.
“Could that be an artifact?” Calen asked, kneeling down.
“I don’t know, it could be. Perysta did say they glowed.”
“It’s worth a try.” Calen untied the leather, and the pendant fell to the ground. Hara scooped it up and examined it closer.
“Hey, remember the mages we saw that one time at home?”
“Some of them had crystals like this in their staffs.”
“I can’t believe you remembered that. Come on, let’s get it to Perysta.”
Hara gazed at the pendant, drinking in the nostalgia that washed over her. “I wish…I wish we could still go home.”
“Well, we can’t.” Calen tugged her along by the arm. “That life is over, Hara. Home is gone. Destroyed. We’re travelers now, doomed to wander. We’re too young to work, too old to be adopted…there’s nothing we can do to get by except trying to survive on our own.”
“We could become apprentices, Calen.”
“Sure, you, maybe. I’m not strong, I can’t cook, and I tire easily. There’s no job I would want to do!”
“Calen…” Hara tried to place her other hand on his shoulder.
“You’re not helping.” He ( )ushed her hand away. “Let’s take the artifact to Perysta. The sooner this whole mess we’re in is explained, the better.”
As they neared Perysta, they noticed that the lady lay with her hands clasped over her heart.
“Perysta! We…we think we’ve found you an artifact!”
Perysta cracked open her eyes to look at them. Seeing the pendant, the corners of her mouth drew up slightly. “I can’t believe you were able to find one. Give it here.”
She turned over one palm, and Hara placed the pendant onto it.
When Perysta’s fingers closed around the object, a ribbon of blue mist wove its way out of it. It flowed to her chest, first circling a few times over her heart, and then lowering itself into it. Pretty soon, the mist was gone, and Perysta was shakily attempting to stand up.
“What did you do?” Calen asked, both eye( )ows raised in shocked wonder.
“I absorbed enough magic to get back to normal.” She wobbled a little, but soon regained her balance with a grimace. “However, I still have an awful pain in my side. I believe I’ve ( )uised at least one rib.”
“Are you sure you’re alright?” Hara let Perysta grab onto her arm for balance.
“I’ll be fine. Give me a few weeks.” Perysta gave her a pained smile.
“Look, I’m sorry you got hurt, but can you please offer us an explanation? I need answers, and soon. Before any more of those things show up.” Calen said with a huff.
“I agree with Calen.” Hara said. “If we’re going to go on some quest to save Cendaea, we need to know what we’re getting into.”
“I guess I do owe you an explanation. I truly am sorry for—“ Perysta gestured to the beastly corpse sitting nearby, “—all of this. I never thought anything like this would happen.”
“You don’t have to apologize for anything, Perysta.” Hara said. “Let’s not think about that right now. Let’s focus on ( )eakfast. Maybe it would be easier you to explain over a meal.”
“Yeah, I’m starving.” Calen said, placing his hands behind his head.
Perysta ( )ushed a few bits of crumbling rock off of the front of her dress. “Then let’s go and eat. There’s a lot I have to tell you.”