The next morning I slipped from my cot. The stone floor was cold beneath my feet. Taking a deep breath I tried to shake off the previous night’s memories. The Cave was silent as I slowly made my way through its wide caverns. I ignored the various tunnels, which led to the rest of the Cave. I kept my gaze on the slate grey stone at my feet and absently played with my short blonde hair. I could never get lost in the Cave, I knew basically every inch of it. I knew this place better than anyone else. I had grown up here. I had even found a few caverns that the elders did not know about. I had squeezed through minute tunnels to see where they wound up. I smiled remembering a time that I had managed to wedge myself in a tunnel that turned out to be a large crack in the Cave. This was my safe haven, my home. When the other girls first arrive they find the overhanging rocks and some of the narrow passes to be intimidating. They would soon adjust to their new surroundings. I had spent hours listening to Kirsten speak of the open sky and wide streets of towns with such longing. I had found it quite odd. The idea of wide open spaces was threatening, queer in a way. My feet found their way to the entrance. They lead me up the slight incline that took me out into the pale sunshine. I could hear the monkeys in the distance, probably playing. The birds chirped around the Cave as I scrambled my way up onto a familiar boulder. I looked across the gap between the Cave and the forest scattered with fissures in the ground. The fissures allowing light into the Cave below. I sat there for a while just gazing out when a deep voice spoke, just as a pair of warm brown eyes came into view below the cropped salt and peppered hair of Chris.
“A little early to be on watch, isn’t it?”
“Never too early.” I replied remembering I had not seen him yesterday or the night before when I found the man. We had male mentors at the Cave to help with our lessons although we were strictly an all-girls boarding school. Chris had been here nearly as long as I have. The only difference in our time here was just a few short weeks. I was so young when I first came here. Some of the youngest girls were twice my age. I can still remember the first time he looked at me. His slightly lined face surprised as he turned to Miss Dale and demanded to know what I had been doing here. Miss Dale had then explained how my parents had died. He looked at me with such sad tender eyes. He dropped to one knee looked me in the eyes put his hand on my shoulder squeezed it gently, straightened up and walked away. Since then we have become close.
“What’s wrong?” He watched me with those intense brown eyes that I had grown so use to.
“A man died here two nights ago.” I said tucking my chin onto my knees.
“I know.” Chris said sadly.
“Who was he?” I asked hoping he would tell me.
“I don’t know.” Came his typical short reply. He was not a man of many words, I was grateful for that. He knew me and I knew him. He was like my father although I never told him. We sat in silence for a while.
“What else?” He inquired,
“He told me some things.” I shrugged.
“When?” I remembered then, what I was about to say. This was sensible Chris. He always looked for the simple answer believing it to be the right choice most times. He looked concerned just then as the dead man’s voice echoed in my mind. How do I tell Chris that a dead man spoke to me, through a rock? He would demand to see the stones and instinctively I knew I must not show him.
“When I cleaned his face.” I shrugged. I hated lying to him.
“He was delirious with fever. Forget him as best as you can.” He placed his hand on my arm. I held back my tears.
“It’s difficult, Mary-” A look from him made me quickly correct myself, “Miss Dale, said that he was the man who brought me here all those years ago. That means he is the reason I’m here. Chris.” I ignored his pointed stare. I needed to tell him. “He kept mumbling my name, even if he was delirious with fever. Miss Dale also mentioned that he said he would never return and that if he did, bad things were happening.” Chris’s lips were thinned and his eyes narrowed.
“I see.” He said as he stood.
“Don’t go.” I pleaded suddenly gripped with unreasonable terror. A wolfs cry pierced the morning air. Chris jumped off the bolder and I was quick to follow. We ran to the edge of the boundary. My night dress was slowing me down. Chris turned and looked at me frowning.
“Stay.” He commanded as he raced past the edge of the protective border. I was frustrated, why had I not changed? I knew it was pointless waiting on the edge for him to come back so I found my way back into the Cave and to the biggest Cavern where we had our meals. The air was filled with chatter of the other girls as well as their echoing voices. Yori called me over to where she was sitting with her two specialising students. Jane and Natasha looked pale as I sat down with them. Yori set her green eyes on me.
“Where is your mentor?” Her cool musical voice asked as I dropped my eyes to my plate, my stomach growled.
“He’s investigating an odd noise.” There was no point in mentioning it was a wolf. He would only be upset if the two other elders in the security side of things ran off to help him abandoning their other duties. I suppose there were perks to being head of security.
“Very well then, I shall instruct you and Mr. Herf shall instruct Amanda. Come along, you have progressed in your training enough to be part of the elder meeting.” She stood. After a longing look at my barely touched food I stood, joining Jane and Natasha. The three of us followed Yori quietly through the tunnels to the forbidden Cavern. This was the one chamber I had not seen. The one chamber I was declared too young to enter. Of course I had found ways to listen to what was being said. Where there were weak points in the Cavern walls. My heart thumped in my chest as I imagined all kinds of wonderful and scary scenes. We came to the only door in the entire Cave. Yori opened it an inch before suddenly turning to face us.
“You are not to repeat anything you hear or see in here. If you do you will be immediately expelled and silenced.” Yori did not need to tell us what she meant by being silenced. As part of our final training we select few would learn spells, of what kind we did not know. We nodded in part fear and part excitement. My heart found its way into in my throat. Yori opened the door fully and ushered us into a dark tunnel. We hesitantly moved forward.
“Watch your head about ten paces ahead. The ceiling drops suddenly then for another three paces stay crouched. The tunnel opens into a wide chamber after that.” Yori’s voice informed us from behind. I wanted to rush ahead but I could hear rushing water below and the floor was slimy beneath my feet. I was worried I would slip and fall into the churning water below. A short yelp came from Natasha up front.
“Watch your step.” Yori cautioned. It was uncomfortable walking with my head bent forward. I could feel the Cave walls pressing in on me.
My shoulders rubbed against the walls and my arms getting covered in slime. I suppressed a shudder knowing that being further back I was not getting the worst of it, poor Natasha. The tunnel suddenly opened wide and Yori whispered a word I failed to catch. The cavern lit up brightly, the walls glowing. The light was eerie. I looked around the Cavern. It was circular with rows of chairs carved from stone forming three circles with a single narrow path breaking the rings.
In the centre stood a single statue of an angel. Its arms holding up the ceiling with its wings spread wide and face looking upward. I walked towards the giant statue, my hand reaching out to touch it. A hand slapped mine away snapping me out of my trance.
“Only an elder may touch the stone.” Yori scolded. I nodded and read the words etched into the pale white stone, ‘may they watch over us, may they give us strength, for we are the border between…’ I could not see the rest as the rest of the words had been savagely scratched out. Yori lead me to the back of the chamber and showed me where to sit on the outer back circle stone bench. Moments later my back was aching, the stone hard and unrelenting and sending cold up my spine. I wish I had enough light to see what the stone was. It was not too long before Mr. Herf arrived with Charlotte, Amanda and Kyla. They joined me in the back as Mr. Herf placed his hand on the statue. I was envious. It was as if every part of me wanted to do just that. As if it was my purpose to touch the statue with its pure beauty. Soon the cavern filled with the elders of the Cave. Miss Dale had left her station at the healing cavern, Angus had left the stables, Mrs. Smitt had left the kitchen as well as Harriet our sour faced dance instructor had left her precious books. She refused to be called Miss Dree insisting it made her sound old. I watched as the other elders came in and placed their hands on the statue then take their seats. I leaned over to Amanda on my right.
“Why do you suppose they do that?” I whispered to Amanda as silently as I could. I could see the slight rise and fall of her shoulders as she shrugged. She leaned closer to me.
“A ritual?” She guessed. We fell silent as Miss Dale called across the chamber,
“Yori, where’s Christopher?”
“Hunting.” She shrugged a sudden hush fell over the chamber.
“Very well, our first order of business.” Miss Dale looked at each of the six of us. “Welcome.” Her nod was formal and her tone tense. “Secondly we need to discuss what happened the other night, the man who died.” Many of the elders spoke out loud. I did not catch the name of the man.
“Something spooked the horses.” I heard Angus shout out.
“We should have let him rot outside.” Harriet sneered as many more comments were made before Yori let out a loud whistle,
“Mary, you may continue.”
“Thank you. As I was saying, must we let the Pack know that one of their own has died?” The cavern was silent. My mind was reeling. He was part of the Pack? What had he wanted from me?
“Where is his death stone?” Mr. Herf demanded, speaking for the first time.
“We are not sure. We think he lost it as he transported himself here.” Miss Dale replied. Why did she lie? She had to know that he left the stone to me in his cloak? I was about to speak up when a hand grabbed my arm. I saw Charlotte; she shook her head at me, her blonde curls bouncing. What was going on?
“The Pack will demand payment.” Another elder said when there was a lull in the noise. Everyone thought about this. The Pack leader would demand a payment especially if they think we had anything to do with his death.
“We will have to prove that we are innocent. That we tried to save him.” Mrs. Smitt spoke up.
“How? We burnt his body.” Mr Herf spoke again. Another hush descended, Angus stood nervously as all eyes looked to him.
“Sorry I know we are slightly off topic here, but something spooked the horses.” Harriet groaned and rolled her eyes but he pushed on. “There was something outside the border last night. Something magical, and now with the wolf cry this morning…” He did not get to finish what he was saying because both Yori and Mr. Herf stood demanding at the same time.
“What wolf cry?” I saw realisation flicker in Yori’s eyes as she turned and glared at me.
“An odd noise?” She demanded looking incredulous, I nodded looking away. “Do you have any idea of the danger Chris could be in?” I saw her face whiten as she and Mr. Herf suddenly sprinted to the tunnel. Before they got to the opening Chris walked in, they stopped short. He walked straight past them and kneeled in front of the statue and placed both his hands on it. His voice echoed around the cavern.
“May they watch over and give us strength, for we are the border between living and death.” Silence greeted his words. Something in the chamber had changed. I could feel it. Chris had just managed to put all the elders on edge.
“Chris?” Mr. Herf’s voice was sharp. I watched as my mentor stood, his face pale and his voice shook when he unrolled a parchment and read,
“Dear Elders, a wanted criminal entered the sanctuary of your Cave. He has stolen what rightly belongs to the Pack. He is an expelled member and he is ours to punish as seen fit by our laws. Hand him over with all his belongings by noon. This is your only warning. Should you fail to comply we are left with no choice but to attack and retrieve what is ours. The Pack, Alpha Peccato.” Everyone was silent as Chris fell quiet. His voice echoed around the cavern. He tore the letter and let it drop to the floor. “I told the wolf that the man was dead. She said to hand over his possessions. I told her we cremated the body along with all that he had come with.” Chris said bitterly. “We need to prepare for war. The Pack will attack soon. We need to send the young girls home. The older students may stay, the choice will be theirs.” There was a loud uproar. It was a while before any order was restored. Eventually Miss Dale asked what we were all wondering.
“How sure are you Chris? How do you know they will attack?” He looked at Miss Dale and spoke quietly,
“Then it is war. Her final words to me before she shimmered into her beast form and attacked me.” Miss Dale nodded and all the elders moved at once, leaving the chamber. The other girls and I stayed seated. Eventually there were just the three security elders and us. I was wondering how Chris had managed to escape the wolf. The elders looked at us gravely and Chris gave a weak smile,
“An interesting first council, now your training really begins.”
“Chris?” Yori looked at him quickly.
“Why was the border put up?” I heard myself asking. Chris winked at me.
“We might as well tell them.” He said as he sat. “Well ladies, there are magical creatures in the forest. Something has upset them. I thought I knew all of them but there are some I have never seen
before.” He shook his head. We all looked at each other. So what if creatures started stirring? Why the border? It was not until Mr. Herf replied that I realised I had spoken out loud. Blushing I listened to what he had to say.
“It has happened in the past that the creatures stirred and our runes usually kept them away, but now they are coming as close to the border as they can. They’re ignoring the pain our runes cause.”
“We have found the bodies to some of the most powerful creatures. They were torn to shreds.” Yori added.
“Something is hunting the creatures we feared.” Chris spoke up.
“We are hunting it.” Yori said as if to comfort us.
“And failing.” Mr. Herf commented. All six of us looked at our mentors. They looked nervous, and if they were nervous, what chance did we have?
“Well, maybe it will keep the pack of wolves away.” Natasha spoke up. Chris lifted his head quickly.
“Perhaps, but for now you girls need to learn to trace magic.” Chris stood taking chalk out of his pocket.
“Yes!” Yori exclaimed, a smile spreading on her face.
“Finally.” Mr. Herf said at the same time. I marvelled at this display. The mentors went from gloomy and serious to happy and excited. We split up into our groups. Amanda and I followed Chris to the back of the angel.
“Alright girls, I want you to bring your awareness to your crown chakra as I have taught you to do.” Chris instructed. I instantly flicked my conscious to the crown chakra at the top of my head, opening it. I gasped the statue’s wing feathers were each outlined in red, as if they were tiny veins of flowing blood.
“What?” Amanda asked looking to where I stared. She shook her head. This was how it often was. I tended to see things when my chakras were open, that the other girls could not see. I turned to see Chris watching me intently, I looked at him confused. He just continued our lesson.
“I am going to draw lines on the bench here. I want you to tell me which ones I infused with magic and what you see.” He drew five lines and walked away. He said we could discuss it between us and compare what we saw before we spoke to him. As she usually did, Amanda opted to work by herself. With a sigh I turned to the lines. The first line was the plain white chalk, the second was more interesting. It rose slightly off the bench in a bendy way. There was a blaring light connected to it. The third line lay flat on the bench like the first line. There was a very faint trace of magic coming from it. When I went to touch it, it moved so quickly as if to strike like a snake. The forth line was the same as the first lifeless and dull. The last line was very different. At first it looked like an ordinary chalk line but the more I looked at it the more it changed. At first it changed to very pale colours hardly distinguishable from white but then the more I tried to see the more it faded to white. When I looked out the corner of my eye, it was a rainbow of colours. I told Chris what I saw, he beamed at me.
“Very good Lyra.” He squeezed my shoulder as he went to see Amanda’s progress.
I stayed where I was, studying the statue intently. The scratches over the words started moving to forming words.
“Lyra, look at me.” I was surprised to see Mr. Herf looking at me and standing so close. I had been so absorbed by the statue that I had failed to notice the others leave. I peeked past him, to see. The scratches were still again. He shook his head and led me towards the tunnel. A thought occurred to me, ‘if this cavern was used so often why was there slime on the walls of the tunnel?’ The tunnel Mr. Herf took me to, was nothing like the one we had come in through. I stopped and stared. I heard him chuckle.
“The Cave tests us all in its own way. Once the test is done and the Cave is satisfied it shows its real form. Come on.” He led the way forward. Where there had once been a tight squeeze there were no walls near us. It was another wide chamber with a stone bridge. I looked over the edge and could see black swirling water. I walked carefully across, grateful when we walked out past the door. He shut it softly with a click. “Oh I almost forgot, Chris asked if you could find us a cavern that the elders could use for a war room.” Then he walked off without a backwards look.
I was amazed, the Cave was alive. I had often thought so. Brian had just confirmed it. How else could the Cave test us? I ran my hand affectionately across the bare stone walls. I could almost feel the living energy at my fingertips. I let the Cave lead me. I followed its faint pulse back to the main caverns and beyond them deep into the dark abyss of the Cave. I felt a slight decline as we went. I knew this part, I sped up. The pulse quickened. Soon I was slipping between what most thought was just a crack. The air was stale here. The pulse still guided me with my hand on the wall. I felt a carving in the wall beneath my fingers. Touching it slightly, the walls of the cavern started to emit light. I took my hand away and examined the carving. It was the Dagaz rune, the rune of light. Of course, it did not just create light. It also awakened the mind and helped one see clearly. I looked at the cavern that I had explored before with candles, fully understanding what I had missed. The walls were draped with veins of a deep blue crystal. I quickly went to one of the thicker veins. I discovered it to be azurite. The crystal helps raise awareness, clears understanding and expands the mind. This would be the perfect place. The Cave already had a war cavern, just waiting for the need to arise. I looked across the cavern. Stone grew from the floor with a series of loud cracks. The stone was twisting and wide. The top of it flat like a table. A pool of water lay to the side. I had swum in those waters. They were calming and soothing. The Cave had given me the place. All I had to do was fetch the people. I put my hands in the water. It was as cool as I remembered it to be. I saw smudges of blood on my fingertips from where I had run with my hand on the Cave wall. I had obviously pressed too hard. I washed the blood off and stood slowly. The Cave would not fall. When I returned to the main caverns it was busy. I saw some of the younger girls, they were crying. My heart went out to them but I could not stop to comfort them. I raced to find Chris. I saw some of the elders instructing a few of the older girls, telling them to help the small ones. I saw a few of the older girls packing trunks and I heard Mary groan,
“No, not your trunks! Only what you can carry.” I did not stay for the rest. I raced out the Cave and crossed the protective border. I made my way straight to a grotto that Chris and I had discovered on one of our many walks. I found him there, crouched over a small rock. He was carving something into it. I could hear the dagger scratching away at its surface. When he was done I tapped him on the shoulder.
“Why don’t you do as you are told?” He sighed as he straitened his back, I shrugged. We often had this argument.
“I found a cavern.” I said quickly and watched him cock his eyebrow,
“In your night dress?” I blushed, how had I forgotten? Why had I still not changed? “You went exploring the Cave, in your night dress?” His tone turning sceptical
“No, the Cave led me to it.” I explained.
“Lyra, you should leave.” The words slammed into me, I could not comprehend it. My mind automatically rejected them. I stood looking at him flabbergasted. I asked the only thing my mind could come up with,
“You need to leave.” His words were still simple but still so incomprehensible. He knew I had no place to go.
“No.” I stood shaking my head for what seemed ages. “No.” I repeated. He sighed,
“I don’t want you to see the fighting.” I could hear the concern but I still stood shaking my head, he sighed again and asked me to show him the cavern. I walked stiffly back to the Cave and showed him the way to the cavern that would be used for the war.