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The Cave by Alanna J. Rubin

For Stephan M. – a continuation…

The stillness that permeates the deep dark misleads you.

The deep voice that uttered the warning faded away as if carried off by the wind, leaving Lyra with a single question…What did he mean? She tucked her long red hair behind her ear and continued along the path even though the journey through the mountains had borne no answers, yet it was where the same voice had directed her. Lyra thought back to her village and the emptiness that greeted her upon her return from K’Daan, the kingdom of healers. She had completed her training and was eager to rejoin her family and offer her services, but when she arrived, there was no one. The village seemed to be devoid of all life. No laughter, no barking from the numerous dogs, no birds chirping, even the leaves of the trees no longer rustled. All that was left were the remnants of activity, the embers of cooking fires were warm, steam spiraled up from soup bowls, the smell of freshly cut herbs still hung in the air. It was as if everyone and everything disappeared in the blink of an eye, and an uneasy feeling crept over Lyra’s skin.

With nowhere else to go, Lyra remained in the village, in her family’s home. Her room was how she had left it, a small bed tucked in the corner under the window, her mortar and pestle sitting on the shelves on the far wall, and her brother’s framed landscape stood on the window sill. The only difference was the soothing flames that burned brightly in the fire place…her family had prepared for her arrival. The thoughtfulness created a feeling of warmth, which was quickly overtaken by one of worry and confusion at their disappearance. Lyra had passed an uneasy night and had woken to the same disembodied voice urging her to venture west to the mountains, and it had promised answers.

It must have been another mile before she found herself at the mouth of a cave. Ravens flew above, which only accentuated the darkness that seemed to spill out its entrance. Every logical thought urged her to turn around, but all her other senses told her this was the way forward. Lyra approached the cave with caution and examined the rocks and shrubs that guarded it. Among the shrubs, she found a substantial branch that she could use to fashion a torch. She pulled strips of cloth for bandages, from the satchel that rested against her side, wrapped them around it, then set them alight. Lyra took one last look around. All seemed normal, except for the disconcerting cawing of the black birds above.

There was no way around it though, so with a deep breath to steel her for whatever she might encounter within, she stepped inside. The fear and trepidation that were her companions moments before disappeared and a sense of calm took their place. Lyra felt a peace take root, one that begged her to remain engulfed in the soothing blackness of the cave. She felt a strong urge to lay down and sleep. A far-off voice seemed to be singing a soothing lullaby, each note making her limbs feel heavier. As she found herself succumbing, she heard a familiar voice warn, “The stillness that permeates the deep dark misleads you.” It snapped her to attention and the far-off voice that, moments ago, seemed to be singing a lullaby, turned into blood curdling screams. The burst of adrenaline broke the spell of the cave and Lyra found herself running forward. “Hang on,” she yelled out into the blackness. Her voice reverberating against the walls.

“Help me!” the man’s voice called back frantically.

A few feet more and Lyra found herself at the edge of a pool of water and a man tied to the wall, the water level just below his mouth. She scrambled to the man, her feet slipping on the damp rock. She pulled a knife from her satchel and cut him loose from his bonds that were made of vines and helped pull him up to safety. “Thank you,” he coughed, water having passed his lips right before she had finished cutting him loose. By the light of the torch, she could see his soulful brown eyes and a lock of his thick black hair fell into his face. “You saved my life,” he continued still regaining his breath, then asked, “What’s your name?”

“I’m Lyra,” she answered.

“Jorin,” he replied.

 

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Obsidian Order by Alanna J. Rubin

For Stephan M., a tale of magic and danger.

There were ripples, and they spread across the surface of the water.

Jorin brushed his thick black hair out of his brown eyes as he watched the outermost ripple collide with the edge of the rocky shore. Normally, he found the sound relaxing, but these were no ordinary ripples – they were a message from the faerie realm. Jorin’s spine ridged at the noise, but he forced himself to listen. The words were muffled, as if the sender didn’t have enough time to fully form the thought before casting it out into the world. Even though the words were rushed and unintelligible, the emotion was impossible to misunderstand…fear. Whoever had sent the message was afraid and if the Fae were afraid, no realm was safe.

Jorin grabbed his brown leather satchel, carefully removed the sage and other components that were tucked within and put them into the boiling water he had prepared. Its scent was pungent – perfect for brewing the liquid necessary for a human to cross realms. Even then, only those fully trained in warlock knowledge could complete the journey safely. Unfortunately for Jorin, he was only partially trained. He knew the incantations, knew the motions, but it was unpracticed at best. However, he was now the last and with his brothers dead, he would have no one to mentor him.

The memory of that day was indelible. Being the newest member of the brotherhood, he was sent to collect herbs while the others endeavored to hone advanced skills. In the hour it took for Jorin to return, it was done. The murderers left a calling card of sorts, the ashes of his fallen comrades were used to create a symbol, an arrow, with three crows standing atop the shaft. It was the crest of the Obsidian Order. A group of warlocks who bent the laws of magic in unnatural ways to achieve immortality, they left in their wake nothing, but death. It was Jorin’s brotherhood along with the Fae that finally defeated the Order more than one century ago. It could not be coincidence that mere days after the tragedy that befell his friends, the faerie realm sent a distress call. The Obsidian Order had somehow risen, and Jorin had to find a way to defeat them. The brotherhood told stories of that time and now he found himself clinging to them – a hopeful reminder that success was possible. He couldn’t give up. Jorin owed his friends that much and the world, as all knew it, depended upon him

The concoction had finished brewing, but he let it cool before he drank, then slowly sipped. It was bitter, but other than having a bad taste in his mouth, he felt no different. Jorin finished the last drop and suddenly felt anxious as the time to cross the threshold was upon him. What if he had made the drink incorrectly? If he had miscalculated, even in the slightest, his journey to the faerie realm would be short indeed. There would be no second chances.

Throwing dirt on the fire, Jorin watched as the flames sputtered and died out, picked up the grimoire, and walked to the water where the message had emanated. He recited an incantation from the book which revealed a reflection of the faerie realm – the doorway, in the surface of the water. He let out a nervous exhale, then waded into the cold lake.

If all was well, he’d come out the other side without much ado. The water had encircled his waist by the time he had reached the center of the reflection. Nothing. Jorin groaned, upset that he must have missed something when a weight wrapped around his ankles, dragging him under. Panic began to rise in his throat to form a scream, but it never came as the water covered his mouth, robbing him of his ability to make a sound.

Jorin’s eyes opened suddenly, and he began to cough, expelling the water he swallowed onto the leaf strewn ground. After catching his breath, he could now focus on his ethereal surroundings. It reminded him of being inside an impressionist painting, beautiful but not quite real. The colors were too vibrant, the smells too sweet, and the sounds too melodic. He could understand why visitors never wanted to leave. Jorin’s thoughts were soon interrupted by someone clearing their throat. Sitting in front of him, on a boulder, was the slender form of his tutor, Ellyrion. “It’s not possible,” Jorin uttered in astonishment. “You’re dead.”

Ellyrion chuckled, causing his floppy silver hair to bounce and the outer corners of his green eyes to crinkle. “Quite right. Quite right,” he said, pleased by the observation. “You were always my favorite student. When the Obsidian Order attacked, I took my last moments to cast a message in a bottle, of sorts. I knew you’d end up in the faerie realm and here I’ve waited for you.” Ellyrion’s jolly demeanor changed without warning to one of earnestness. “You have to finish what was started.” His eyes then fixed upon Jorin’s, forcing images into his mind’s eye. Jorin was whisked to The Forest of Allar, then to the Diamond Peaks of Omradda, and finally, the Valley of Tulesc –  all places designed by the fae to test the worthiness of a newcomer and, it appeared, he’d have to survive them all. Sweat beaded atop his brow and he grimaced as the images were seared into his memory, leaving him breathless. Jorin looked to Ellyrion for an explanation, but all he gave was an encouraging smile before fading away – leaving Jorin with a fresh pang of loss, but he could not dwell on it. Jorin picked up his water-logged leather satchel and grimoire then headed east toward the forest. Jorin heard Ellyrion’s voice pushing him onward and knew, in his soul, he would find a way to defeat the Obsidian Order and restore peace.

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