Vayle dragged his fingers across the walls, tasting the taint spoiling his territory. Metal tapping against rocks sang around them. Human chatter bounced around the walls. The clacking of carts rolling along the only mining track entered periodically. The string of lights hanging from the ceiling turned the rocks an eerie yellow.
At least electricity still worked.
The narrow hall often opened to rooms decorated in bright intricately designed carpets, wooded tables and chairs. Tearani stopped at a larger room filled with children, sitting at wooden desks while listening to a male talk about Jaelian history.
Vayle pulled Tearani away before they were spotted.
No matter how many times Vayle visited, he could never get used to the close feeling. Rocks pushed in on either side. The halls dug so deep into the mountain Vayle couldn’t smell the end. If the ceiling dropped on them, they’d be trapped. How could Trysts live like this?
Humans pushed by carrying tools, food and emergency kits.
“Are they always working?” Tearani asked as they passed yet another room Trysts were digging out.
Vayle nodded. “It wasn’t always like this. When Waystron’s great grandfather ran this place, it had many issues including a high death rate. Before they set up the medical center, many babies and soon-to-be mothers died during childbirth. Because this place is so labor intensive, the humans started abusing the herbs and plant-life, using them to create drugs. As you noticed, not many animals can be found this far up the mountain. Trysts were always running out of food. They weren’t this skilled at mining in the beginning. They lost many people to cave-ins and runaway tools.”
“And then Lord Vayle dropped from the sky to save the day,” Tearani announced.
“Waystron, the current head’s father, and his bonded partner took over. They organized everything. Waystron and his partner came from a family of miners. They started teaching. Not everyone digs. Some mix herbs, some manage the food supply. Others repair tools, the track and the carts. The Waystrons sat down with everyone to determine their strengths.” Vayle grinned at Tearani. “And then Lord Vayle showed up to save the day.”
Tearani shook her head, chuckling.
They turned down a set a wooden staircase leading to the lower level. Vayle traveled the lower parts of Tryst during his first and second visits. After that, they banned him from lingering on the floors. He followed the scent of blood. According to Waystron, the monsters like bleeding the children before taking them away.
“It reeks,” Tearani said as they enter the lower level.
Eleven children bled in one community created a distressing scent. Darkness hung thicker down here. It turned the air to soup. It roamed the hall like tentacles from a tremendous monster.
How did humans function with their limited vision? If they could see what Sciell saw, this situation would never have gotten this depraved.
Why did the Darkness have to grow up into a monster? A hole opened beneath Vayle’s chest sucking into it everything warm about the world.
Tearani tapped his arm. His jumped from her comforting touch. He didn’t have time to mourn over this decaying world.
Once they visited the latest victim’s room and pick up the trail, they’d have to travel to the center of the cavern. He needed to fix the shields' core. The Darkness may try to obstruct the investigation. He’d have Tearani examine the shield. She formed a relationship with Bel before being reunited with the rest of them. She knew almost as much about shields as both Niah and Bel.
“And that’s why you never pass an opportunity to get to know new people.”
“Couldn’t let that one go. You have to point out the lesson in everything.”
Tearani shrugged. “If I didn’t, you would never see it.”
They reached the victim’s residence. A couple huddled together on a blanket covering a stone couch. Their grief crushed the room’s elegance. The brightly colored decorations turned gaudy. Their pain sucked the life out of the lights. It covered the room in a dark cloud. The pair didn’t lift their heads when Vayle and Tearani walked into the living room.
The couple kept weeping.
Shadows slithered across the room like snakes through grass. They reached for the grieving couple.
“Damn the Darkness,” Tearani spat as she walked to the middle of the room.
She rarely cursed. Vayle used Shade’s curse to season his annoyance. He never thought about what it meant. That curse was made for this moment.
Power flowed out of Tearani in a circle. She pushed more Lifeblood into the shield. It grew, encompassing the entire room. The shadows stopped moving. Tearani was best as creating cleansing shields. She tried teaching Vayle how to do it. After days without progress, they gave up.
How was Shade going to find a way to teach all Lifeblood beings? Even Bleak didn’t know how to create a school where every being could receive individual training.
Shade would find a way. Like always. His baby sister, starting a school…
A sharp elbow to his ribs knocked his thoughts sideways. Tearani glared at him. Why did she always shove those skinny elbows into his side? Damn the Darkness that hurt.
“You can be proud of Shade later,” she whispered. “We have a little girl to find.”
How enriching it would feel the day Tearani was wrong. He’d throw a party. He’d chisel the date in stone and sit it in front of whatever house she and Lafeyette settled down in.
Tearani groaned. “How would you have gotten this done on your own? You have the attention span of a child.”
She headed further into the house. This was his investigation. He couldn’t have Tearani leading it.
He needed to open his senses to see the emotions of everyone who passed through this home. Vayle didn’t know how much help that would be. The parents’ anguish was palpable. If he enhanced his senses, he’d see only grey.
They walked into the child’s room. It felt comfortable. She’d grow up to be a sweetheart. The scent of envy, hatred, hunger lost the battle against the warm feelings this child emanated. She was only ten. They had to find her. She was strong. They bled her here. Vayle sensed her fear. He also sensed her determination to live.
Unfortunately, she was popular. Many people came through her room. Vayle detected her scent, her blood. He needed the scent of those who attacked her. He couldn’t pick them up. The reek of human disinfectant sliced his head in two. Someone used it in an attempt to remove all traces of blood. They missed some.
Tearani retched. “I understand why homes need to be sanitized. Why do humans have to use such strong smelling chemicals?”
The scathing scent worked up his nose. Any longer in this room and Vayle wouldn’t be able to smell anything for a week. Was this meant for him? They knew the right amount to use. Too small to reach human nose. Strong enough to kill his and Tearani’s sense of smell.
Tearani crouched on the floor and inhaled, deeply. She choked, wildly rubbing her eyes and nose.
“This worries me,” she said.
“Waystron said blood was left behind after the kidnapping, which means someone used this chemical after everyone realized the child was gone,” Vayle said.
Tearani stood and nodded. “They masked their scent. I can smell Waystron, the child, her parents and friends. It’s easy to pick out those scents. They’ve been here too long to be the attackers.”
“Since I smell the child’s panic,” Vayle said. “It’s safe to assume she either didn’t know or didn’t trust the intruders. I can smell their negative emotions. Damn the Darkness, I don’t know the body it came off. We can’t track those emotions through the Darkness infesting this cavern.”
Vayle didn’t want to subject himself to every emotion that passed through this room.
Vayle closed his eyes. He was in Savage Hall the first winter Shade spent there. The snow was waist deep. No Del’Praeli walked around unless they had to. Everyone was trapped inside. It was only himself and his baby sister. Alone for as long as the snow lasted. Shade’s laugh came out easier during those days. He made funny faces and she’d be rolling on the floor. The fire cracked. The glow danced across the walls. Shade gently shoved him. She jumped off the couch and ran out of her apartment. Laughing, Vayle chased after her. Savage Hall was nicer during that winter. It opened itself to Vayle. He could travel the halls without getting lost. Vayle searched each room for Shade. Her laughter rang through the hall. Everything smelled like freedom.
Vayle opened his eyes.
The bedroom was nothing but grey, black and deep purple.
Tearani lifted her arms and waved them through the air. The colors parted revealing blues, yellows and reds. She moved those colors aside.
Vayle knew his mouth hung open. He didn’t know how to close it.
“We can add our aura colors to attacks and weapons. Sifting through the array of colors simply takes time, meditation and a full understanding of what the aura is. Aura is energy. As Sciell and Miners, our bodies are containers for energy. An aura is another version of Lifeblood.”
He was still better with his Nanta than she was.
“Whatever makes you feel better,” she mumbled. “What do we have here?”
She uncovered a braided strand of blood red, dark green and black. It came through the door and stopped in the middle of the room. Black and gold waves surrounded it.
The child’s remarkable spirit suppressed the negatives emotions of her attackers.
Whatever Trysts taught their children needed spread throughout Middle Jael.
Tearani walked out of the room, clearing the other colors.
The hallway was a mess of disgusting colors. He needed his senses open to find the child. He hated seeing the world like this. Populated areas infected by Darkness looked like someone squeezed a rainbow out of their butt hole. A wet disgusting mass of headache inducing colors. It had been a days since Vayle ate. Good thing. He didn’t want to add anything more to this vomit stew.
Tearani uncovered the braided colors. They followed it deeper into the cavern. Vayle’s other senses stopped him from cracking open his head on a low handing ceiling or tripping over a rock. It told him the passage was too narrow to walk upright. Trysts hadn’t dug this far into the mountain.
The array of eye stabbing colors turned into a sheet of Darkness.
Tearani stopped. “Are we in a hurry?”
He wanted to s fix his shields' core. Darkness could cause someone else to go insane or worse, warn those who took the children that someone found their trail. On the other hand, the child had been missing for two days.
Vayle let his breath out slowly. “I need to fix the shields. Once we pick up the trail again, we’ll run to make up for lost time.”
Vayle lengthened his nails and opened a wound across his palm. He smeared blood across the wall. Tearani did the same. This way, they could tell where they went off the trail while in their shadow form.
Vayle blinked, closing off his enhance vision.
He sensed the size of this area. Seeing it was breathtaking. Tearani gasped.
Sweet warmth. He could live here forever. Steam rose from an impressive pool before them. It stopped at walls covered in stones columns shaped like melted candles. Green and gold rocks sat the bottom of this clear pool. Those same rocks decorated the high ceiling. Crisp fresh air touched his nose from his right. The cavern opened to more stone columns to his left. It ended at a tall passageway barely wide enough to fit someone as skinny as Tearani.
Shade and Niah, having traveled overseas, often talked about buildings and landscapes that remained them of how small they were. They described the scenes with awe. Their faces lit up. Vayle could never imagine anything that domineering as beautiful.
How was this cavern possible? How could something this remarkable live under a mountain?
Tearani cleared her throat. “Your core is leaking. I don’t smell it nearby but it effected the aura of this area.”
Core? His core. It wasn’t leaking. He knew how to control his power.
“Your shield’s core.”
Tearani sounded like Lafeyette. Hope that didn’t become a habit.
She was right. He’d never been to this part of the cavern. His shield wasn’t anywhere near here. The core never leaked.
His heart iced. What happened when the core leaked?
“The Darkness feeds on the Lifeblood and uses it to torment people.”
He turned on Tearani.
“I do not make some moronic mistake like creating a core that leaks,” Vayle shouted.
This was not his fault. It couldn’t be his fault.
“I never said you did. We don’t have time for this. I’m tired of walking and the core is only a short distance away.”
She dropped into a sceadu. Vayle’s roared shook rocks from the ceiling. He was not some savage who harmed children.
He followed Tearani.
Waves of black wind rushed from the core—the center of Keep Tryst’s shields. He smelled a line of that violent Bria, drilling through the ceiling.
Keep Tyrst’s core was a black sphere taller than he was floating in the middle of a vast cavern. It sat closer to the ceiling. It was a black version of his inner core, his Dark Consciousness.
Humans couldn’t break it but getting to close to it would probably empower their inner Darkness. He encased his core in its own container as a precaution. Lifeblood was, in general, bad for humans.
He knew the different layers of the core by smell. Everything was black. He wrapped shadows around each layer to make the orbs visible. Humans couldn’t see or feel the shields surrounding their villages. If they didn’t see the core, some would think Vayle wasn’t doing his job.
He called the sphere closer to him. It was much smaller than it should be. Over the years, Vayle learned to determine how much Lifeblood a village needed. He created an outer shield full of his Lifeblood. The rest of the shields feed off it. He hated replenishing his shields. Large villages like Keep Tryst required a lot power to keep it running.
First he needed to take care of the Bria attacking the shields' core.
Vayle commanded his power to eat the Bria. An ocean of black sand spilled from his body. It devoured the bad power. His Lifeblood along with the bad Bria became one with Vayle. Lightening slice through his insides as the Bria revolted. Soul deep agony darkened his vision as it stabbed his inner core.
His Lifeblood worked to subdue the foreign power. The Bria raged, striking anything it could reach. It shatter bones, dragged its sharp body under his skin, bursting organs.
He took in too much violent power at once.
His Lifeblood worked. The Bria’s attack slowed. It became a part of him. Vayle cough. Blood splattered his chin.
Next. He passed Lifeblood through his core before pushing it out. He was stronger than this damn Darkness. The power swept through Tryst. It would scrub out the taint.
Vayle’s limbs trembled. His work wasn’t done. He’d rest when he fixed everything. His body healed. His energy wouldn't replenish until he absorbed more Bria. He wasn't looking forward to that.
A room full of children stared at him with frightened eyes. They prepared themselves. They expect him to abuse them.
Vayle shook away the vision. He wasn’t a monster who abused children.
“Are these the same shields your first created?” Tearani asked as though nothing happened.
Vayle nodded. “I come here twice a year to pour more power in it.” His voice came out harsher than expected.
His body wouldn’t steady. He used too much power.
He needed water.
Tearani shook her head. “You need to take down the old shields once or twice a year and put up new ones.”
How was he supposed to know that?
“You ask. The Darkness is too smart. The masters probably commanded it to concentrate on heavily populated areas and ignore everything else. The growing number of humans now living in Tryst made this place a target. It will sit over your shields and pick at them. The best way to combat this it to create new shields and change the order you arrange them. A sound shield might be on the bottom one year and at the top the next. Our power grows and gets more potent each year. A fresh shield with our new power will make it harder for Darkness to get in.”
Vayle raked his fingers through his hair.
“Almost everything we know about shield is useless. They’re supposed to sustain themselves by feeding on Bria. We can’t do that because Bria is evil.”
“Bel probably can. Last time I talked to Bel, he, Kaige and some being called Mauve were developing a way for shields to filter out the malicious intent in Bria so that energy could be used to sustain crops even after they were harvested.”
“I saw Bel recently. He never mentioned it,” Vayle grumbled.
He wasn’t as close to Bel as Tearani was, but the younger male was comfortable enough around Vayle to share information about his past.
“If you were Sovereign, you should’ve sensed it.”
Heat rose in Vayle face. He hadn’t paid any attention to the power flowing through Sovereign. He should have. Sovereign was one of the few villages completely hidden from strangers. The residents travelled but not often. At a certain distance from the village, it became difficult to track people. Everyone Vayle talked to were familiar with Sovereign but no one knew where it was.
The thought of being taught by Bel, someone so younger, was…
“We can’t fault humans for their arrogance” Tearani. “We Sciell have it worse because we’re stronger and live for hundreds of years. We have a tendency to see human lives as insignificant. We have far more pride than they do and it might lead us into trouble.” Tearani patted his arm. “Our pride and arrogance will get us in trouble.”
Vayle was tired of being lectured by Tearani. Maybe there was some truth to what she said. He and his family shouldn’t have dismissed the humans’ whispers about finding ways to destroy Lifeblood beings. Now they talked about a weapon and Vayle didn’t know if it existed, where it was or what it did.
“Do you think my broken shields are related to what happened with Bleak and Sadie?” Vayle asked.
Tearani tightened her lips.
“You get annoyed when people ask you questions you know the answer to. Why would you ask me something like that? I am not your mother.”
Vayle snapped his shoulders back. He deserved that. She didn’t have to be so mean about it.
“The masters of Darkness are not finished taking over this world. They, like us, probably live for hundreds of years. They’re taking their time. They don’t want to live like the first master of Darkness, being abused by humans,” Tearani said.
Vayle scratched his head. “I don’t understand what’s going on. The masters of Darkness only want to feed negative emotions inside humans and eat those feeling. They don’t want us. Most of the memories Shade gained from Bleak, Sadie and Phoenix are too fragmented. She can’t put the pieces together.”
“You are not stupid, Vayle. We’ve talked about this before, often. The Darkness is experimenting. Sie, Phoenix, Bleak and Sadie were tests. We shield our minds so they can’t manipulate us too. We will never figure out what they want.” Tearani jabbed her finger at the core. “Fix it, this we can control.”
“We need to figure out what they’re doing?” Vayle snapped.
Tearani gave him a terrifying stare. He felt like a child again.
“We also need to figure out what the Prysns are doing because they cannot create any more creatures. The Brielle and the rabid Del’Praeli…we need to stop them. We also need to keep humans safe as they travel because those Lifeblood talismans don’t work as well as they used to. We need to discover what humans are up to because they are planning something and it’s going to be bad. We also need to find a way to live without humans because I’m tired I am tired of swallowing their hatred just because I’m different. On top of that, there are powerful beings we can’t sense helping the Darkness. They helped kill Bleak. They attacked Sadie and Phoenix. There are a lot of things we need to do Vayle Slaughter and whining about it is not going to fix any of them.”
Vayle stepped back and rel axed his stance. He didn’t mean to whine, to ask questions no one had the answers to. He was tired and worried. Shade had Phoenix, Sadie and Bleak’s cores. Did that make a target? How would be protect Shade from the Darkness? He didn’t even know what the enemy looked like.
This disaster in Keep Tryst didn’t help.
“We need a plan.” He kept his voice quiet.
“How can we plan when we spend most of the year separated?” Her voice calmed. It still held a sharp edge.
Too many problems. Focus on what he can fix.
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