Chapter 1

There was a loud bang outside the Cave where I boarded. The night had been quiet. I was on watch duty with a few of the other girls. Slowly, I crept up towards the dark mass on the ground. I made sure not to leave the protective magical boundary. I was ready to shoot my bow if I had to. I was shocked to find a man unconscious on just the other side of the border. He was covered in mud and upon closer scrutiny; I saw his clothes were wet with blood. I lifted my bow, scanning the surrounding trees. I whistled to call my fellow guards for help. I kept my knife within easy reach and my bow drawn tight ready to shoot until my fellow guards came splashing towards me, their bows at the ready. Yori, our mentor, took one look at the man and ran to get the head healer, Miss Dale. While we waited for Yori and Miss Dale, lightning flashed across the sky with a blinding light, revealing the woods surrounding the Cave. A slow shower started as the head healer quickly came towards us. One close look at him and she instructed us to take him inside to the healing cavern at once.

Checking one last time I crossed the boundary. There was a brief pause while we all waited for something to happen. I grabbed the man under his arms and dragged him inside the boundary. My feet slipped a little in the mud and I almost dropped him. Charlotte grabbed the man’s feet, her blonde hair briefly touching the muddy ground when it fell forward.  Her eyes met mine as we both carried him in. He was difficult to carry. We tried to keep him still as we navigated our way down the slight slope into the Cave. He gave a slight shudder once we were inside. The air cooled the deeper we went. We took one of the side tunnels and entered the caverns dedicated to healing.

“Yori, prepare the equipment we will need. Lyra you clean him up and get rid of the infected skin. Charlotte, I need the light to be brighter.” Miss Dale instructed and we instantly set to it. I grabbed the disinfectant and went straight to the wounds across his chest. There were three gouges across his chest rife with infection.

The edges were yellow and green. I waited until Charlotte finished applying the powder to the walls. Once she was done, the walls glowing brightly gave us ample light to see. I started to cut away the infected flesh as Yori started to stitch up his hands. Once I was done cleaning his wounds, I moved out of the way so that Yori could do her job and stitch where she could. I got some more warm water out of the warm pool from one of the side chambers and started cleaning the man’s face. He was handsome with high cheek bones and pale pink lips. I started cleaning his hair when I looked up to see the Head healer watching me. Her eyes fell to the man’s face and I saw a flicker of recognition in her eyes. She quickly looked at me again.  I continued what I was doing. I studied his face. His eyes were surrounded by fine lines and his beard had streaks of gray in it. For the first time I wondered who this man was. I soon left to get out of their way.

I returned to my post and joined Charlotte. She smiled at me sadly. We do not get many outsiders that come to our Cave. We remained silent, each of us lost in our own thoughts. I smelt a sickly rotten fish odour on the wind. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I was grateful for the protective magical boundary that had been recently put up. I still did not know why it had been put up. None of us had been told why the protection had been increased as much as it had.

Maybe it had to do with that man? Slowly I watched as the last of the three moons dipped into the horizon and the sun stretched up into the morning sky. When my watch was relieved, I went to the healing rooms to see how the man was doing.

I found Yori sleeping behind the desk in the corner, her chocolate brown hair fanned out around her pale skin. I walked quietly past her looking for Miss Dale. I found her shaking her head sadly as she leaned over the mysterious man. She took the sheet covering him and slowly covered his face. I walked over to her not sure what to do.

“It’s always sad to lose one of the good ones. Lyra please tell Master Herf I need a funeral pyre and then go get some sleep.” I nodded, my chest felt hollow and my eyes stung, who was that man? I quickly found Master Herf and told him about the pyre.  This was not my first death, far from it. I did not know this man but his death felt personal. I curled up on my bed. I was unable to sleep, I just lay there. Miss Dale called me to her station later. I slowly walked the tunnel way to the healing cavern once again, noting the unnatural clean smell mixed with the natural mineral smell of the Cave. My feet heavily made their way towards her station and stalled slightly after a timid knock on the wall next to the sheeting that covered the entrance of her hollowed out station.

“Come in.” Miss Dale Called. She sat behind her small wooden table. The table seemed as if it might collapse at any second underneath its contents of paper and an oddly shaped bundle. Miss Dale watched me with her shrewd hazel eyes just behind her sharp protruding nose. Her lips were thinned, never a good sign. She indicated for me to sit. I sat and watched the candlelight dance on the Cave walls.

“Lyra, do you know who that man was?” She asked me immediately, not one for small talk. I just shook my head in mute reply. She nodded and leaned back in her chair. “That man just so happens to be the one who brought you to us, all those years ago.” She paused, waiting for my reaction. So that is who he was. I had fuzzy memories of my journey to the Cave. Miss Dale soon continued, “He told me he would never return here and if he ever should then things would be very bad in the outside world.” She paused as if suddenly wondering if she should have told me that. “He managed a few words before he died. Lyra, he wanted you to have his coat.” I sensed this was not a pause.

“His coat?” I asked numbly, my mind in the distant past. Miss Dale nodded,

“It was his dying request.” She pushed the bundle towards me. “That will be all.” Understanding that I was clearly dismissed I left her office and headed back to my quarters in a daze. The acrid smell of burning flesh filled my nose. I was sick all over on one of the healing beds. They had lit the funeral pyre already. The smell reminded me of ten years ago when my family died.

I avoided the pyre as much as I could as I went to my room. I dumped the man’s coat on my bed. It unravelled a little and a flickering pink caught my eye from within. I opened one of the pockets inside the coat and found two small stones no bigger than pebbles. The one pebble was a pale pink.

The pink looked like it was moving in a swirling pattern but halfway through a swirl it would change again. It was as if the pink was smoke inside the stone. The second stone was clear but it had solid red streaks that were connected to each other looking like hundreds of broken spider webs. Unlike the other one, the smoke did not move. It remained solid. I did not want to touch it. It gave off a feeling of hatred, pain and anger. I decided to pick up the pink one. As I touched the stone, I felt a strange tingling sensation race up my arm and spread all over my body.

I tried to move my hand away from the stone but I no longer had any control over my body. Shortly after the tingle, I was suffocating, falling at an uncontrollable speed. It felt like I was being pushed through a tight small tunnel, darkness surrounded me. I realised my eyes were closed. My lungs were burning as I tried to gasp for breath.

I could feel my lungs straining to get air. Just as I was about to pass out my feet hit something solid and I could breathe again. I opened my eyes and I saw pink smoke all around me. As I stood there I realised that there was a solid white stone path beneath my feet. Curiously I followed it to see where it would lead me. I came to a little house with white stone walls made up of smaller stones, a pink roof and pink door. The windows also tainted slightly pink. Outside the house sat two cherry blossom trees in full bloom. I walked up to the door to knock but the door melted away at my touch, as if caught in a breeze. I entered the house without thinking. As I walked in I saw a man with green hair. His face was hidden in a pink haze. I could feel his eyes on me watching me as I made my way slowly towards him. Sitting cross legged on the floor he watched as I looked around the room for furniture of some sort but there was none. I realised this was the same man that had died. I quickly stepped back thinking of running, but where could I go?

“Do not worry; I mean you no harm.” His voice was deep and smooth. I took no comfort from his words yet my body acted on its own. To my horror I walked forward and sat on the floor and looked at him like a child getting ready to be told a story. Questions formed in my mind but there was no need to voice them because he already started to answer before I could.

“Dear, dear child, I am sorry it has come to this. We are in the stone’s void. I have not died in vain for I have found you. I have run for many days. I have drained all that my body had to offer. I pushed it too far. From the day I left my sanctuary, I have been hunted.” His words scared and confused me. I looked at him. Surely I was hallucinating. It was the only way this was possible.

“Hunted?” I asked curiously noticing the slight shiver that ran along the length of his body.

“Yes, by Fisonds.” Seeing my confused expression he went on to explain, “They are evil creatures. Slaves of the very person I have run from. They are the ones who ripped me. I was lucky.” I looked at this man. How was being dead lucky? I focused back onto what he was saying. “Fisonds have diamond hard skin that look as thin as paper. There are few weak points on a Fisond.” He paused looking into the distance. “What am I doing?” He exclaimed, “I am rambling on about something irrelevant.”  I interrupted his mumbling.

“How is it that you are lucky? Wouldn’t it have been better to survive? That reminds me, how is that you managed to get to the Cave after such a bad wound?” I asked thinking that Chris would like to know. With the wound he had, he would have been shuffling along and we would have noticed his approach days ago.

“Yes, that’s right. I forgot. They are keeping the knowledge to themselves. I travelled here by magic. I transported myself here. In a way you could say I both doomed and saved myself.” He laughed in a hysterical way.

“The Fisond is drawn to magic. So I had refrained from using it till the last moment when I knew I was doomed either way. I chose the least painful. For you see, the Fisonds are worse than most realise. Death is a blessing. A Fisond doesn’t immediately kill its prey. First they catch them and then they paralyze them. Then they close in and slowly start eating the prey keeping them alive for as long as possible. Then just before they die they steal the soul. The soul is then trapped within a crystal prison.” I was horrified and shuddered at the mental picture this man had just put before me but he continued with what he had to tell me. “They were sent after me because I stole something, something important. I only did it to save lives. I have to have it destroyed but I am in no condition to do it myself. I was looking for you. I was going to take you with me, but now it seems as if you must go on without me.” I was surprised, “I know I ask a lot but will you take over my mission? Will you make my death have some meaning?” I looked at him. I could feel his eyes staring at me, pleading. I tried to refuse but I could not. When I tried to say no, my gut screamed no. It felt wrong to deny this man’s request. To my surprise I smiled and accepted. He told me the incantation that would make the stone mine. As soon as he finished speaking the suffocating feeling came back. It felt as if the air was being sucked out of my lungs, forcibly ripped out instead of being drawn in. The last thing I heard before suffocating was him whispering,  “Remember…”

It was not very clear. When I opened my eyes again I was back in my room with my finger still on the stone. I quickly bundled up the stones careful not to touch them and threw the coat under my cot. I did not sleep well that night. I kept dreaming I was on the run from Fisonds.

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