Ash groans as she wakes up. Although her torso aches, her arms, and legs are numb. Only the slight tingling sensation gives her the confidence that she hasn’t suffered permanent damage.
The young teen groans at the memory of the fight. It was disturbing to battle herself. It felt less like an opponent and more like her own subconscious. The fight had taxed her skill. Even if Talon had fought beside her, the ambush of the second attack would have negated the advantage of numbers.
In all likelihood, Talon would have been captured as well.
Ash shakes her head, “Focus girl. You gave a job to do.”
Her eyes adjust to the darkness. She barely sees the stone outcroppings. The air is damp and a foul odor hangs in the air. In the distance, she can hear something heavy work its way through the cavern.
Crude, metal bars block off the small crevice that she is trapped in.
Carefully, the Fae leans towards the opening.
In the weak light are dozens of nests. Each one holding at least fifty glowing spheres. Moving among the nests are two figures. Each has four thick limbs, a muscular tail, and massive jaws.
At the moment they are more interested in the spheres than anything else.
The only other thing that Ash can make out is the presence of at least one other light source. However, the bulk of the creatures prevents Ash from determining what that source is.
Ash is startled by the noise. She turns her head and sees another girl peering through her own bars. Her brown skin is streaked with mud. A scar runs across her forehead to her chin.
“You are Fae?”
She nods her head, “Ellia of the Northern Frostlands.”
“Ash of the Southern Woods.”
“Did they capture you as well?”
She nods her head, “In a manner of speaking.”
“Has the council not noticed?”
“I was sent by them.”
Ellia breathes a sigh of relief.
“How long have you been here?”
“A year or so.”
Ash stares at her wide-eyed, “How many have been taken?”
“Since I have been here? A dozen. They take whoever they can get their hands on.” She shudders, “There were others here longer but they took them.” Her voice cracks and the Fae covers her mouth.
A low growl from the opposite side of the chamber puts a stop to their conversation. One steps forward, careful not to hurt the eggs. After a few moments, it turns back towards tending the eggs. The teens relax slightly. They lean closer so they can whisper.
“I thought they were extinct,” Ellia whispers.
“They’re supposed to be. We weren’t sure what was happening until recently.” Ash replies, “Some did not believe, even with the evidence of cycles and manner of disappearances.”
“But then how did you get here?”
“One of the Fae who chooses to remain in the human world. She was one of our more constant writers. Then she sent word that Fae passing through were not reaching the portal.”
The cave shakes slightly and the two creatures rise up. For a moment they chitter at each other. A moment later, they assume the shape of two humans. Without a noise, they disappear through the caves.
“Ah good. Time to go.”
The second Fae stares curiously at Ash.
“Came with a Guardian.”
Her eyes grow wide in surprise.
“I thought they were…”
“So did I but they called one back.”
“I knew… they were evil. But to call out a Guardian?”
Ash nods her head, sober by the thought.
“Come on. We need to leave.”
“What about the others?”
“Others?” Ash frowns.
“Yes. They are more.” The Fae’s face pales, “I think they feed on them.”
Talon waits, perched in the treetops.Two humans appear out of the cave. They walk slowly into the open field. Their eyes scan the field. One slowly moves across the field. The other remains close to the cave entrance.
Talon takes a deep breath and steadies himself.
Without warning the tree shifts.
He looks down and sees one of the humans. However, a large scythe has replaced its arm. He howls and slashes again. The tree tilts crazily to the side.
Talon leaps free with ease. As he spins in the air, he lets his power flow. Energy crackles around his forearms. The Fae hits the ground. The earth peels back from his landing point. The human’s flesh rolls and writhes across his flesh. In seconds, the creature’s true form appears. Thick limbs with an armored body. Its tail hammers the ground.
The creature leaps forward and with claws held out.
It howls, a chilling cold voice.
Talon sets his jaw and charges forward. Energy swords explode outward and forms a pair of long blades in his hands. In an instance, they clash. They exchange blows in rapid succession. The creature’s powerful tail swings, falling three trees in quick succession. However, Talon is able to block the attacks.
The creature flexes his limbs and tosses Talon fifty feet across the field. Talon lands easily. Symbols burn to life along his lower legs.
He suddenly accelerates, faster than any human. He sweeps underneath the other’s attack. The creatures howl. It spins back with an attack towards his head. Talon falls to one knee. He flexes and leaps to the sky.
Then the battle begins.
The creature spins and reels back on his hind legs. Its tail slams into the ground. The motion sends the creature upward.
Talon slashes down. The blow sends the creature back down, creating a crater.
A gout of fire explodes out of his mouth. The flames reach but encounter a transparent shield formed by Talon. The shield divides the flames and he drops towards the creature. The creature snarls and rolls away. Talon leaps towards him and slams the blades into the creature’s chest. The animal howls in pain.
The animal lets out one last ragged breath as it falls to the ground.
As the creature falls to the ground, the second creature howls in anger and grief. Talon spins and sees the creature charging across the open field. Halfway across, the creature has changed into its true form.
Chunks of earth toss up into the air.
Talon releases more power into his body. The energy crackles around his body as he begins his attack. They meet fifty feet shy of the woods.
The resulting the clash sends shockwaves rippling through the air. The resulting tears apart the earth. The earth is torn apart. The scythe and the swords clash. They move back and forth across the clearing. In moments, the once lush meadow becomes little more than a torn field. The attacks are brutal with no holds.
Talon struggles to block the clawed arms, barbed claw, and armored feet. As quickly as he can, he lashes out with his blades singing.
A sudden blow sends Talon skipping across the ground.
He rolls back onto his feet ready for an attack.
However, the creature rolls to its side. From numerous wounds black liquid pours. The creature’s body compresses as it breathes its last.
With a groan, Talon picks his way through the mauled ground. He eases way into the cave opening. As his eyes adjust to the darkness, the cave slowly becomes brighter. To a human, it would seem as if the light of a full moon filled the cavern.
He walks deeper into the cave system.
A hideous smell fills his nostrils. Talon feels his stomach lurch at the horrid stench. As he rounds a corner, he feels something crunch underneath his foot. He glances down and realizes that it is a piece of bone. It glitters in the dark.
He bends down and he realizes that it is a Fae bone.
Talon continues, passing bones of animals and humans. Occasionally, he finds a Fae bone mixed in with the rest.
Talon hears soft noises coming from the end of the hall. He rolls his shoulders to relax his tense muscles. Carefully he peers around the corner. Sudden light hurts his eyes. For a moment, his eyes adjust to light. He sinks to his knees at the sight.
“No.” He whispers. “No, it can’t be.”