Underground Ring: Book 1, page 23
“What happened here?” called Ravenfury as he pushed his way through the crowd, followed closely by Anandus.
There was no response from Selene. She just knelt next to their bodies, silent tears streaming down her face. Then came a scream then from the crowds. It was Gerald.
“Vincent?” Gerald’s voice was full of panic. “Vincent?”
The man shook his fallen brother, screaming his name over and over until he finally broke down and sobbed quietly as he cradled Vincent’s detached head. I smiled in spite of myself.
Anandus looked back at another Boorr, who simply nodded and darted into the forest as Ravenfury stood beside Selene.
“Who did this, lass?” he asked softly, putting a consoling hand on her shoulder.
The Mother Pagan shook her head as if she could not produce the sounds necessary to communicate. She then took a deep breath, wiped her tears away, and spoke. “The Vitae Lord, Augrais, slew our friends here.” Selene’s voice seemed calm and even but I could sense the deep well of feeling in her from the events that just occurred. Ravenfury had already nodded to his Druids to join the search. I could not stay here for much longer. Selene continued. “He acted alone, outside the agenda of the Mystics. Lokus—”
“Lokus?” Ravenfury interrupted upon her speaking the name. “Where is the old bastard?”
The Arch Druid’s smile then faded as a look of confusion took him. Selene merely shook her head.
Meanwhile, Gerald began to go into a frenzy as other Pagans tried to calm him.
“What do you mean if we find him? We will find him and I will kill him with my bare hands!” Gerald roared, now on his feet.
“It is far too dark to track him. Please calm down,” Selene called back to him.
“Calm down?” Gerald scoffed, clearly losing control of his emotions. “You want me to calm down after seeing Vincent die?”
Selene began to shrink smaller and smaller as Gerald, who seemed to be borderline violent, approached her. “I’m not going to calm down. I’m going to kill him and anyone who gets in my way.”
Ravenfury put a hand on Gerald’s shoulder, which was all the spark the gunpowder keg needed. The Pagan twisted, his energies about to lash out at his former ally, when suddenly a voice rang out.
“Stop, Gerald!” The command from the Water gift rang clear and true.
Gerald’s fist, which was in mid-swing, slowed down until it stopped entirely a few inches from Ravenfury’s face. Not that the blow would have done him much good. Just as long as the Druid’s feet were planted firmly on the ground, Gerald could do little damage.
The crowd parted to reveal my three old friends. With Trosian leading, they walked through the crowd to the centre of the fray. Trosian swept past the bodies of the dead as Ben and Lee examined the corpses.
“We’re too late,” Lee cursed as he and Ben set down to examine the bodies.
Ben glanced down with his one good eye. He could not see from the other eye since that side of his face was completely swollen. Ben said nothing as Lee continued his examination.
“Trosian,” Selene spoke with a quiet surprise in her voice as he approached.
“Mother Pagan,” Trosian acknowledged her with a nod. “It has been a long time.”
But the pleasantries ended soon after that.
“Why did you not tell me what had happened when you sent me Balmung?” cried Selene, who smacked Trosian’s chest out of frustration.
“On the contrary, my lady,” Trosian responded in his typical calm manner, “that is why we are here now.”
Selene glared at him in response, clearly not accepting his answer. “So now he has Balmung and the chain? And we all have to pay the price because of your blunder?”
At this point the old Trosian would have seethed with rage and gone to pout in the corner.
“With all due respect, Selene,” Trosian’s voice rose slightly, “it was your negligence or lack of observation that allowed him to attain the sword.”
Selene opened her mouth to answer, but Trosian silenced her with a raised hand. Who was this man that developed from that weak, pissed-off teenager?
“I apologize,” he continued though he really did not sound apologetic, “for our lack of communication. We would have had everything under control if there hadn’t been a…complication.”
He glowered coldly at Ben who just lowered his head, again saying nothing.
“Regardless of who was at fault,” the young Mystic continued without missing a beat, “our current situation will not change. What we need to do now is look to our future.”
Selene’s original frosted stare slowly melted. She nodded. “Agreed. Where is the chain then? Is it safe?”
Trosian lowered his head and his voice, as if he knew he was being overheard. “Quite safe,” Trosian replied. “Not because of the power aspect but because of the mystery of where the boy, Yayel, is going.”
“You gave it to that child?” she demanded. Her emphasis made it seem as if she was focused on the monstrous side of Yayel. “Do you realize how dangerous, how foolish, that was?”
“I do, but we had no other options at that time. Yayel’s heart is true. Furthermore, he leaves the city very soon. This ruse will merely buy us time so that we may plan to better deal with this new threat.”
“Do not underestimate the power of that chain.” Selene looked very serious now.
The crowds became restless as they despaired over their fallen comrades.
“With Augrais a demon, we’re all doomed,” a Pagan from the crowd said. “Even the Mystic leader knows it. He left us here because he knows we have no hope.”
There were frightened murmurs from the crowd and the leaders looked strangely uncomfortable.
“We are not doomed.” Trosian was the first to recover, his voice ringing clearly and with authority. “We will overcome. This darkness, this evil we face now is not invincible. We know this. Each of us has fought them, won battles against them. We can survive. We can win. This is the time when weak men and women falter, where they fall to their knees in surrender when they see the tempest of life come to them.” Trosian’s eyes were lit with a fury I had never seen in him before. “But that is not our destiny. That is not the path we will walk.”
“Then what do you suppose we do, lad?” Ravenfury asked, taking a step next to him.
“Attain aid, find assistance,” Trosian demanded. “We have found the Druids and Boorr from theeast. There must be others who wish to join our cause. Rally them, allow them to see that this is a threat they must not allow to fester and grow.”
The crowd gave no sign that they were moved by this speech or that they were inspired with hope. That is, until Selene chimed in.
“We will not lose hope. Pagan, Druid, Boorr, and Mystic, those titles will make no difference to the Shadows, for we will be the Underground, united as we were against the Acerbus. We will destroy anything that threatens us once and for all!”
A few of the Pagans cheered with her as she finished her speech, and slowly but surely their faces began to brighten and show the light of faith once again.
“Trosian,” Selene took her leader’s tone once again, as she put a hand on my rival’s shoulder. “Thank you.”
Trosian nodded, eyes still smoldering with the Fire.
“Go to Lokus and rally all of the Mystics you can. In the months to follow, we will need your people’s great strength in order to survive.”
“And what will you do?” Trosian asked.
“Prepare to cut the head off the snake.”
“Laucian,” Trosian growled.
The Mother Pagan nodded and repeated, “Laucian. Go now, Mystic brother, rally your tribe and protect the chain with Yayel. We will call for you when we are ready to make our move.”
“Understood,” Trosian responded quickly. The resolution in his eyes changed as he nodded to Ben and Lee to leave.
My former friends exited the forest, blissfully unaware that I was silently following t
They approached a small vehicle, a blue sports car. They were silent as if they were taking in what had happened in the past 24 hours. Just as the three were about to enter the car, a question was posed.
“We’re not going to rally the Mystics, are we?” Lee asked, stopping dead in his tracks.
Trosian stopped, turned back to him and shook his head. “You and I both know there are no more of us left.”
“Then what will we do?” Ben asked.
“We will not be doing anything,” Trosian stated as he tossed the keys from his hands. “I am going to seek out Lokus and ascend.”
Ben caught the keys effortlessly. “Become a Vitae Lord? Remember what happened to Augrais after he made that change? He became a freakin’ monster, man.”
Trosian’s eyes narrowed. “I am not him,” he responded, his voice a clear threat. “I am not a demon.”
Ben looked him dead in eye. “I still can’t believe it.”
“Believe what?” Lee asked.
“That Augrais is really evil. I don’t know,” he leaned his head against the door, “I half expect him to walk out of the forest and say ‘Hey, just kidding,’ and everything will be peachy. I mean, the Shadows were bad enough, but now with him against us, it’s almost too much.” Ben’s bruised face began to contort slightly as he fought back tears.
“I believe it was meant to happen, Ben,” Trosian said after giving Ben a moment. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Trosian’s tone almost sounded counselling now, as if he understood how Ben felt. “He used that power, much like Laucian before him, to bring us back to life. I understand and know your guilt but he chose to do that.”
“And now we’re alive and he’s a demon?” Ben’s voice broke as his tears came. “How could he give his life for ours? And now we have to kill him? How is that fair?”
Trosian’s face twitched slightly, holding back his pain behind a mask of apathy. “What’s dead should stay dead.” His voice was calm and even, but I could feel the emotion coming forth. “Go north to the place where it all began, and find Yayel.”
Then, without a farewell, Trosian turned to leave.
“Did you really mean what you said back in the forest?” Ben’s voice followed him. “Do you really believe we’ll make it through all of this?”
Trosian stopped dead in his tracks, still facing away. “No, Ben. No, I do not.”
I sat on the street curb, my face buried in my hands. This was the first town I had ever been in, the town where I had met my former friends, the place where it all began. That clue plagued me for the next six months. I could not follow them. They left in their car and, even with all my speed, I could not get back to the van in time to catch them. I used every method I had to sense, track, hunt them but they had disappeared. At first I thought of Lokus’s mansion, but when I returned there I found it burned to the ground. This was clearly the handiwork of the Shadows, but it gave me no inkling to the whereabouts of Yayel. I then went to Trosian’s uncle’s house in the metropolitan area, but it had been abandoned for a few months. Then I went to Yayel’s old home, but it was nothing but rubble. I searched all of the towns north of this one thoroughly, but I could get no better idea of where they had hidden that blasted child. Where the hell is he? I wondered angrily.
My fist smashed into the concrete curb next to me. Like clay, the concrete crumbled under the force of my blow, but pain shot up my arm. When I had first left that forest, six months ago, a strike to something as hard as concrete would have been child’s play. Was I getting weaker? I wondered as I stared at my hand as if it could give me the answers I sought. The possibility of a decline in my powers made me panic slightly.
“Calm down,” I spoke aloud, trying to calm myself with the tone of my voice. “I must be missing something. I met them here, right in this spot.”
Nostalgic memories of my first battle with Trosian flashed into my mind. Where else could they have meant? I needed to calm down. I needed focus, a state of mind I had a hard time obtaining in the past few months. At first I thought it was because of my frustration at being unable to find the chain, but no, this felt different. It was similar to the weakness one would feel when starving: fatigue; headaches; and the inability to complete simple tasks. This confused me. A Vitae Lord like myself doesn’t need to eat or sleep much in the first place. What the hell was going on? I asked myself again
I banished the question from my mind immediately. It would get me no closer to uncovering the location of Yayel and my chain. I needed to concentrate. How had our enemies found us? I mulled the problem over for the first time. I remembered my conversation with Selene. Anandus had used his Handseals to create an Air gift. This allowed him to track strong Fire gifts such as those Yayel and I had. It would not give me as precise a location as sensing and tracking energy could, but it would give me a general idea as to whether I were in the right fifty-kilometre radius. The problem was that I did not know how to use the Air gift in that wide-searching fashion.
I sighed and stood up. I calmed my mind and closed my eyes, letting the world go around me. Suddenly, a severe migraine hit me hard. I grasped my forehead and grimaced, seeing spots released by my Air gift. A slow smirk spread across my face. The migraine had been worth it. A great Fire gift was here, unstable, just like Yayel’s.
And where would young teenagers go on a Saturday? Knowing Trosian as well as I did, I figured he would have enrolled the young Yayel in a public school to continue his education. If he were going to school that would mean he would have friends and that would mean he would be with those friends on a Saturday evening, probably in some sort of public place.
Silently cheering to myself, I sped through the town so quickly that anyone would think I was late for a very important appointment. I was late, and it was high time that I received what was truly mine: the chain.
The rolling of thunder began to reverberate from far away, warning Yayel of my arrival. I stood silently outside a café, watching my former student standing with his back to me in a small group of his peers. The café was well lit and seemed a warm, happy place. This was the life Yayel was meant to have. It was a pity he would not live it much longer. I felt the energy begin to seep from my pores and surround me. My excitement grew. The anticipation was nearly irresistible. I was half tempted to go in and slaughter whomever I needed to in order to attain my goal. No, my reason got the better of me. In my weakened state it would not be a wise decision. I needed to lead him away so that he would follow. His head popped up suddenly as he sensed my strength behind him. Turning slowly to me, his face lost all colour as if he had seen a ghost. I had forgotten that he thought I was dead. He would think that being reunited with his teacher would be a happy moment. I chuckled under my breath, a cold laugh. Yayel could not have been more wrong.
I sped down the street as Yayel stormed out of the café, his friends calling to him in confused voices. He saw me about 100 metres away, standing at a crossroads. My grin widened to the point where it must have looked frightening. I wanted him to see me. I wanted him to follow me. I turned from him and the thunder rolled. Even with his great speed, Yayel seemed to have trouble keeping up with me. This surprised me because, in my weakened state, I expected him to catch up with me faster. However, there were times when I had to wait for him to catch up. Perhaps the lack of constant training had left him out of condition?
This chase lasted for a few minutes. I needed to lead him away from the city as I did not want to attract unwanted attention. Veering down an alleyway, I found myself in a dead end. Perfect, I thought, as I summoned energy to my legs. Then, with a surge of power, I flung myself on top of the shorter building near me. The headache blinded me for a moment but then passed in a matter of seconds. Yayel, like a kitten following a string, jogged around the corner and stopped. The boy looked confused as he began to step forward cautiously. Just come
“Augrais?” he asked with the same uncertainty, his head cocked to the side. Something was clearly warning him. Telling him to run. Pity he did not listen.
“Yayel, my student,” I said, with the same false tone I took with Selene. “Where is the chain?”
He froze, like a deer that had just spotted a wolf. His eyes became darker as his fists bunched. “What happened to you?” Yayel asked as he took another step, suspicious but still wanting to believe. “They told me you were dead. They told me you died saving them.”
I laughed in spite of myself. “No I didn’t die, Yayel. I came close but”—I lost my patience and my voice became forced—“this isn’t the time. The chain, where is it? Shadows are attacking again. We need all the help we can get.” The lie came so freely from my lips that I barely realized I’d said it.
Yayel took a short step back then asked, “Where are the others then? I don’t sense them or the Shadows you’re talking about.”
I matched his step backwards with a step forward of my own. “Yayel,” I said again, taking a slightly patronizing tone, “we don’t have time for this.” I reached him. He could no longer take a step back as I placed my hands on his shoulders. “You have to trust me on this.”