All rights reserved.
Chapter 35: Fractured Fairy Tale
Zhenta's nostrils flared with anxiety as Trizryn walked her toward the waterfall plunging down from above the mouth of the wide cavern's threshold. This alternate exit—the one that made Absin'navad look like it might be inhabited by a dragon—was the one the camp's refugees used to hide their handful of horses. But getting them inside the waterfall cavern was much easier than getting them back out.
The mare's protests were becoming discouraging, so Trizryn finally gave the reins to Aija. "She's being too noisy. Let me check to be sure the river bank and forest are clear before we try to run her out."
The human nodded and stayed back, patting the horse's neck to soothe her.
As the elf crept along the wall toward the daylight opening at the waterfall's edge, he blinked away the stinging spray that soaked his clothing. But before he could move beyond it, a beam of winter sun burned his flesh with surprising intensity. Trizryn growled at the searing pain and withdrew to the wet shadows, hiding his blistered hand beneath his winter robe.
"Are you alright?" Aija asked. She had probably heard his reaction and seen his quick movement, but hopefully she had not seen what happened.
Looking beyond the threshold, the newly turned vampire realized he had not considered a possible sensitivity to sunlight in his travel plans. "Scraped my hand on the rock," he lied and checked the position of the flaming orb in the sky. "We should wait until dark." Returning to her, he took his horse's reins.
"You want to just stand here all day waiting for the sun to set."
"No. I intend to sit while waiting." When they had retreated beyond the cold spray and thundering roar of the bleak falls, Trizryn released the horse and sat down on the rock ground. "Sunset should be only a few hours away, not all day."
"Two out of three of us can't see in the dark," she reminded him, glancing to the horse. "Majority rules." But when he refused to debate his decision, she sighed with disgust and sat down next to him. "Couldn't we at least go back to the camp? There's icicles lining the mouth of this cave, and it's twice as cold back here in the shade. By sunset we may have to chip our way out with a pick ax."
"Not worth the effort to go all the way back down, only to turn around and come back up." He closed his eyes and rested the back of his head against the cavern wall.
Aija turned her face toward the sunlight streaming in near the edge of the falls and rubbed a chill from her arms. "I wish K'tía and Shei were coming with us, but I guess it's a good thing they chose to stay with Rezenetha'ir until they can relocate the camp. K'tía can keep everyone healthy, and Shei can lift their spirits with his jokes and songs."
Trizryn could hear the human's heartbeat again, but this time was very different. It didn't lure him into a feeding frenzy. It lulled him into a peaceful calm as it echoed in his own chest. "Do you feel any different?" he asked, cautious but curious.
She adjusted the bag and staff at her feet. "What do you mean?"
He was hesitant to explain. "Tesler thinks you drank some of my blood the night I was poisoned. He thinks it might have tainted you, too."
"I doubt it was enough to matter. I didn't get sick like you did. Besides, Mahntarei stabbed me with the same poison, but K'tía said I was immune."
"But you may be immune because you previously ingested it with my blood. Did anything strange happen when you were trying to draw it out? Did it make you feel … different?"
Aija grew silent for a long moment.
He turned his head to look at her as she weighed the memory.
How do you tell someone she might have been turned into a vampire's fledgling? What did that even mean? Did that make her a thrall, or did that make her a vampire herself? Maybe Tesler was wrong and there was nothing more to it. But in light of the thief's previous secrets, this one was different. This one he couldn't even share with Shei. Checking the dull summoning gem, he couldn't bring himself to say anything more to anyone—not until he knew more about it.
"Hope I'm not too late," a third voice spoke from the back of the cavern. Wearing a duster-length, leather-and-fur veðrkylk with a red scarf, Tesler arrived loaded down with packed alchemy gear, camping equipment, and book bags.
Trizryn glanced over the baggage. "You expect my poor horse to carry all that?"
The alchemist set down his gear. "You said be prepared for anything."
"Yes, but we're camping in the outskirts of Brinnan, not colonizing a small island."
Aija grinned at the alchemist. "Tesler, I didn't know you were coming with us."
"Yes, well, neither did I, until yesterday when Trizryn strongly suggested that I come along and bring my serum-making supplies." He cut an unhappy glance toward the other elf as he sat down beside the human.
The thief smirked at how well his alternate plan came together for keeping the alchemist from spreading vampire rumors. But beneath that smirk he honestly wasn't sure what he would have done if Tesler hadn't mentioned helping Róbynn create more serum. That and the fact that he realized the alchemist was also his best bet for finding a cure was what saved him.
"What's that?" the human indicated the large, white patch stuck to the alchemist's neck.
"Oh, it's nothing. I … ran into something sharp." Tesler flipped his scarf over it.
"Well, you know what they say about running with scissors," Aija quipped. "You should have asked K'tía to look at it before you left."
"I can make a potion later. That's another reason Trizryn invited me along. The camp has a healer now, so he said my remedies might be useful on your journey." Tesler noticed the angry, red blisters on the back of the thief's hand.
The rogue-prince withdrew his hand from view. "We'll be traveling after sunset, so you might want to take a nap before we head out," he hinted, as the human bent forward to check her bag. Trizryn had made the alchemist promise not to tell Aija anything about his vampirism until he himself was ready to discuss it with her.
"Oh, yes. Of course. I forgot about the sun," Tesler muttered in recognition of the problem.
Aija pulled out her camera and turned to face the two elves. "Okay, smile!"
Tesler blinked at her in confusion. "Why?"
"She wants to take your picture," Trizryn answered.
"Oh, is that some kind of illusion-capture device?" Excited to see a gadget from another world, the smaller elf took the phone and turned it over in his hands.
Aija grinned at his sense of wonder and took it back to show him how it works. "This is the lens, so you just press this button, and it stores the image on a digital card."
He blinked again at the unexpected flash, but then laughed when she showed him the result. "You didn't smile, Trizryn."
"I don't think he ever smiles ... except when he's been tickled." Sitting back on her heels, Aija studied the shot. "Which is a shame because he looks a little like a wolf when he does. Unless his hair's wet. Then he looks like a cat. Although, K'tía was rather spot on when she said, 'manners of a goat,' too."
The alchemist quirked a brow at the thief.
"Don't ask," the thief dismissed her commentary as she snapped a photo of herself sitting with them.
"Very well. Wake me when you're ready to go." Twisting his backpack into a position supporting his head, Tesler stretched out on the ground and closed his eyes. "Although, I do suggest we plan on hunting some game before undertaking a long ride, since some of us might get hungry before sunrise."
Trizryn frowned at him for hinting too close to the truth, but the reclining alchemist paid no attention, and perhaps he had a point. The thief didn't know if animal blood could suffice as an alternative, but it was worth a try. There were no hunger pains yet, but he could already feel his vitality slipping. It had been nearly a full day since he fed. If Tesler was right about the tests, the blood lust would return soon.
"You know, I never thought I'd say it, but I think I'm going to miss these ruins," Aija reflected as she snapped one more photo of the sun streaming through the waterfall cavern's icy entrance. "On the other hand, I've been cooped up inside dark places ever since coming to this world, so I'm ready to see a little more of it … in daylight, if possible."
Trizryn stretched his arms behind his head. "This isn't a sight-seeing tour, Aija. My bringing you here was a mistake."
"But mistakes make us who we are ... you know?" She admired the new photos she took, then tucked the phone back into her bag. "For better or worse, we usually learn something from them that changes us forever."
"Well, in that case, you're in for a real learning experience because I make lots of mistakes," he dryly answered. "Just look at the mess I've made this time," he added, his voice tailing off.
Aija saddened at his self-depreciating admission. "It's not all bad. You saved your sister and friends from the summoner and her assassin. You saved me from a dragon and stood up to Ilisram when he wanted to kill me. And in return, I might be able to help Reznetha'ir with an alliance. That's what Gáraketh would have wanted, right? You finished what he started. Well, you're trying to, anyway." She winced slightly. "I know I've complained a lot since you brought me here, but … I have to admit a little part of me is glad I made the mistake of running into you."
"Does that mean you're also glad your friend ran me over with her car?"
A slow smile touched her lips. "If she hadn't I wouldn't have known that any of this exists. I'm seeing a world of magic no human has seen in centuries—maybe never. That's kind of exciting, in spite of everything. If I can help with the refugees, what better reason to fall into a fairy trap? And when I get home, if the dragon still needs slaying, I'll tell everyone that I know a fearless elf prince who has a magical sword. No one will believe me, of course, but … maybe he'll be willing to help us save our little town."
He met her sincere expression. "Fairy trap?"
"I had to see if you were listening."
The elf's eyes narrowed. "You've never met a real fairy, have you? They're like … free spirits … with an attention deficiency… on drugs. They're like Beily, but worse."
Aija laughed lightly at that odd description. "Well, you're not exactly what I imagined as elves or proper princes go, either."
"No, I'm just a pompous git who looks like a troll."
"You're not going to let that go, are you?"
In wry amusement, he crossed one foot over the other and tucked his arms into the warmth of his veðrkylk, then slumped further down against the rock behind him, careful of his still-bandaged, half-healed back. "You should rest while you can. We'll be traveling all night."
"Right. Fine." Pulling her coat and borrowed winter robe closer to keep out the damp chill, she leaned against his shoulder and closed her eyes. "But no giving me nightmares while I'm trying to sleep."
"No freak shows. Got it." Trizryn almost warned her that any effort to stay close for warmth was pointless. He had been warm for a short time after he fed, but his body was already cooling down to the unnatural temperature of death.
He was obligated to wait for sunset before he could warm himself on fresh blood again, but he tapped into his inborn sorcery to momentarily raise his body temperature for her ... as he had done to create a frozen shield between their bodies and the dragon's breath when they first met.
When the human drew closer in predictable response to the heat, the elf lifted his gaze to the mouth of the cavern between the waterfall and the stone, where flurries could be seen falling from the unpredictable sky. For a moment it seemed as if nothing had changed since they first came here. But everything had changed now. Everything.
"Trizryn?" Aija's voice drew him from his thoughts.
She spoke softly to avoid disturbing the alchemist's sleep. "If by some chance there is no dragon, can I still tell Kim about the elf gates?"
"Kim … The one who ran into me with the car?"
"You're the one who ran in front of her," Aija corrected.
"So I did," he quietly conceded. "Do you trust her?"
"With my life. Same as you trust Shei. And it would make her feel better to know you're okay. She probably thinks both of us are dead, and she's probably blaming herself … if she's alive, that is."
He considered this for a long moment. It was a very real possibility he hadn't been the only one to lose a friend in the forest that day. Slouching a little further down, he met her eye-to-eye and spoke low. "If you trust Kim, then I will trust her, too. Just remember our lives are not the only ones at risk if the wrong people find out about those gates. Until we find out what's wrong with them, dragon or not, we're responsible for guarding any knowledge about what happened."
Aija nodded in understanding. "Kim would probably be willing to help us find Gáraketh, too, so you can at least give him a proper burial." With a sympathetic smile, the human turned away and closed her eyes, trying once more to sleep during the daylight hours in the freezing cavern.
A smile was small comfort, considering what lay in store for them. But Trizryn felt surprisingly reassured by it.
Author's Note: Thanks to everyone reading, especially those taking the time to leave reviews! Just a reminder, this is the first book in a five book series. I will be posting the second book here, as well, so you can look for it on my profile page in the next day or so. It's called The Fledgling. Trizryn goes after his summoner's scroll while he continues learning how to adjust to his transformation. We learn a little more about his past with Kassi. Aija takes an interest in Tesler's alchemy and begins to suspect the elves are keeping more secrets from her. And the camp at Absin'navad gets ready to move to a new, hidden location only to discover they have more immediate worries than the Derra Eirlyn's summoner finding them.