Chapter Twenty-Three: Ajatar's Lair

The Tundra, Arctica

Tarja looked around the room. She had no idea why everyone was being so quiet, but it didn't seem out of place. She moved closer to the treasures, but couldn't bring herself to touch them. None of this should even be possible. She shouldn't be this close to any of this. It just shouldn't be happening.

Raakel stared at it all with a frown on her face. "We have to be getting close. Why would she let us even get this close?"

"She probably has something awful planned for us," Vuokko whispered. Even though she was speaking no louder than a whisper, her voice still carried throughout the darkness of the room.

Sebastiaan rested his hands on his hips. "I think she's right. There are probably many layers of this place and this is just to lead us from the real prizes. She's here. I just know it."

Tarja eyed Sebastiaan out of the corner of her eye. She had been getting dark vibes off of him for awhile now and it was actually getting worse with each passing second. "We probably should get going then."

Raakel's eyes flickered around the room. "How though?"

Tarja looked around the room, realizing what the witch meant. There was simply no way out of here. The darkness even met a wall. "There has to be a way."

Raakel shook her head. "What if there's really not?"

Tarja looked around the room. "There has to be a way. There's always a way out."

Kendra moved closer to Tarja. "What if there's really not?" she asked, her voice so soft that Tarja could hardly hear it.

"We'll worry about them.

Aleksander smiled at Tarja as the rest of the group moved away. "You sure are a worrier."

Tarja just gave him a long look. "Someone has to be."

His smiled just widened. "We could just take all of this and run away. Just look at these treasures. There's enough in here for us to live well for quite some time."

Tarja looked around at the room. "You know I can't do that."

"Just think about how easy it would be though. Do we really need to see what's on the other side? We could just stop here and live the way we want too. We could run away and have a normal life. I think I could start over."

Tarja just looked at him. "We can't do that."

He smiled. "It's a nice thought though, isn't it?"

Tarja gave him her own small, sad smile. "Yes, it is a nice thought, but that's all it is a thought."

"Well, maybe one day, you will let me show you a good time. I've been told that my looks alone are enough to get us anywhere in life."

Tarja snorted. "Yeah, right. You seem a little bit too sure of yourself there. I would think that most people couldn't stand the thought of being in the room as you."

Aleksander just shook his head. "And that is why you are not a people person."

"And, yet, I can't seem to get rid of you."

"That hurt."

They watched as the rest of the group looked in the darkest corners of the room. Tarja felt like she should be helping, but she didn't know how. She didn't have any powers. She did let her senses reach out into the room, but it wasn't any good. Raakel and Sebastiaan would have sensed the magic by now if there was any to be had.

Aleksander poked Tarja's arm. "When this is all over, I'll show you a good time."
Tarja just rolled her eyes. "And how would you do that?"
"Just give me a chance."

She watched as he walked away, over to Sebastiaan who was in the corner in the deep south of the room. She would have never thought that those two would still be here after all this time. She really had thought that they would had run at the first sight of danger, but, yet, here they were in the middle of things.

Maybe she had been wrong about Sebastiaan. Maybe the darkness around him was all just in her head. He didn't seem all that dangerous now. In fact, he was almost an alley, a friend. Well, he was actually all of those things.

"I've found something!" Anneke yelled.

Tarja looked over in Anneke's direction. From here, she didn't see anything all that great, but Raakel seemed kind of excited around something.

Tarja rushed over to the corner and looked. Sure enough, there was a hole. It was big enough hole that she didn't understand how they had missed it.

They all peered carefully down into the hole. It wasn't as dark as Tarja thought it would had been. There seemed to be something lighting it. It took her a few minutes to realize what it was.

"The entire path is iced in," Kendra said, with a frown. "I don't know how we can get down there without breaking a few bones."

"What's life without a few broken bones?" Aleksander asked with a smirk. "We could just stay up here and enjoy the treasures."

Tarja quickly shook her head. "No, we have to keep going."

She lowered herself down into the hole. The ice wasn't a slippery as they thought it had been. In fact, she could actually stand up with little to no effort. The others came down behind her.

As they made their way down the first tunnel, the walls seemed to grow narrower and narrower, forcing them to walk in a single file line. The wind started to funnel down from some unseen exit. It bit at their cheeks, sending a burning sensation to their faces. Tarja pulled up her hood and drew her collar up as high as it would go. Still, it only covered about half of her face. The seemed to be whispering something, but Tarja couldn't figure out what it was saying. It did seem to be in Finnish, but that was all she could make out from it. She could feel the exhaustion setting in, but the dark shadows on the walls kept her going.

Eelis somehow got around Tarja and was now leading the group. "It's getting darker, isn't it?" He moved his head upwards. "The ice isn't getting any thinner, but it is getting harder to see."

Tarja looked upwards. The ice did seem to be getting thicker and did seem to be putting off even more light. It just didn't seem possible that it was getting darker. However, he was right. It was getting darker with each passing second. The path beneath them crunched with each step.

"Come on," Raakel said as she urged the group forward. "It's not going to us any good just standing here."

Tarja lost track of time as they kept going. It could have been hours, days, or a matter of minutes, but she couldn't tell. They all stayed quiet, as if they were afraid to say anything.

The whispers kept coming, but they still blended so poorly in with the wind that Tarja still could not make them out. It was enough to drown out any private thoughts that she had. Exhaustion, fear, and worry settled in her body, making her feel as if she were a caged animal with no way out.

Night was falling or it seemed like it was. It was so dark now that Tarja could barely see Eelis's back. She wanted to grab onto him so she would know which way to go, but couldn't bring herself to. IT wasn't like they were friends or anything like that.

It was so dark now that they had no other choice but to stop. They found shelter in a small hollow that was just a bit away from the main path. It had been a difficult decision to leave the main path, but if they were going to stop, it was a lot better than being out in the open. The wind whipped even in their shelter. The small fire they had built did little to nothing to keep them protected from the elements.

"It's getting colder the further we go," Raakel said as everyone made themselves at home around the fire. She lifted her head up toward the darkness. "There's going to be less light as well. It means we're getting closer. She's trying to stop us from coming, but can't fully bring herself to end us. She wants to see just who has managed to venture in this far."

Tarja listened to Raakel's calming voice. How could she be this calm whenever it was almost certain that they were going to die? However, the more that Raakel seemed to talk, the more that little layer of doubt came out. If Raakel was doubting them now, did that mean that all of this was just a waste? Where they going to die for nothing?

"We're going to have to be even more careful," Raakel said after pausing of a brief moment. "She's going to start throwing even more at us. She's going to try to see if there is anything that can make us turn back. She'll be looking for a weakness."
Tarja nodded. When she looked around, she was surprised to see that everyone else was nodding. Her gaze wondered over to Sebastiaan, who was sitting a little bit away from the group. Unlike the others, he didn't have his clothes drawn close. In fact, it was almost as if he didn't feel the cold. The whispers of the wind seemed to grow stronger. If she could hear them, then she was willing to bet that he could too. They were probably coming in a lot louder and more often for him.

They settled in to rest, but Tarja could not take her eyes off of Sebastiaan. His lips seemed to be moving just the littlest bit. What was he up too? She couldn't move any closer without him picking up on what she was doing.

Throughout their rest, Tarja kept looking over at Sebastiaan at random times. He hadn't moved. He seemed to be focusing on something on the wall. She was going to ask him about it as soon as she got the chance.

The world slowly got lighter, but it was not completely daylight. The dim twilight gave them just enough light to move on. The edges of the land were lit by the ice, making it seem as if the shadows were actually moving along the edges. The wind was even louder than it had been yesterday. It was almost a roar.

The whispers seemed to surround them. Tarja looked around to see if any of the others were reacting to them. Sebastiaan was actually walking with his eyes closed and nodding his head. She blinked. No, he was actually doing it, but there was no way for her to talk to him without someone else hearing.

"Stop!" Markus called.

"What is it?" Kaidan asked.

"There's something up there," Markus said, dropping his voice.

Ahead, on the floor there was a young girl. Her eyes were open, but unblinking. Tarja moved closer to her. She seemed to almost blend in with the ice; her skin was blue and her hair was a white mass. Beads of sweat lined her brow and she seemed to be hot to the touch. However, she appeared to be dead.

Tarja knelt down closer to the girl. "Can you hear me?"

Nothing...The girl didn't even look like she was breathing.

Frowning, Tarja looked up at Raakel and Sebastiaan. "Can you get anything?"

"She's not from this world," Sebastiaan said.

"Can she be woken?" Kendra whispered. "Is it too late for that?"

Raakel looked down at the girl's unmoving form." I don't know."

"There's something else," Aleksander whispered.

Tarja looked at him. "What do you mean?"

"There's someone else in here."

Tarja peered down the path. There was actually someone else coming. She couldn't make out more than the bobbing of a light, but there was something or someone coming. It was coming closer, right at them, moving in almost a slow and calculated pace. She pulled out her gun and saw that the others were doing the same thing.

The figure reached them, but didn't look at them. Instead, she went right toward the young girl. Her fingers tightened about the young girl's shoulders, reaching up and cupping her cheek in her palm. It was almost like the other female was trying to sense something out of the younger one. There was no denying that the newcomer was using magic; everyone could feel the gentle pull...Maybe she was trying to comfort the young girl on her final journey out of this world.

The young girl's eyes blinked as her head slowly turned toward the newcomer. She smiled as she saw who was kneeling next to her. "You've found me," she said, her voice hoarse and nothing more than a whisper. "You've found me on my final journey. Now, I can go in peace."

Tarja looked over at her group. They were unmoving, just as taken in with the scene as she was.

"Yes, I've found you, now go in peace," the newcomer said. Her voice didn't sound like anything from this world. It sounded far older.

"Make sure they have everything that the need. They didn't fear me. I could feel their concern for me even as I laid here," the young girl went on. "Make sure they get what they need."
The other woman nodded. "I will."

The young girl smiled. "Do not pity me. My journey is just starting."