The Glowstone Quest

“I finally found the exit.” Emaline could barely hear Kenan’s exclamation over the roar of the spell.

“What did you do?!” Her straining vocal cords said she was yelling, but it barely registered to her ringing ears. She tried to find him in the ever-present darkness, but her night vision had been completely ruined by the fireball too.

“I cleared a path.”

“Damn it, Kenan. Casting a fireball in the middle of a dead forest?” The smell of smoke reached her nostrils and she knew that the bright red spots dotting the path in front of her weren’t just from the afterimage of Kenan’s fire burned into her retinas.

She drew upon the core of her power, which felt a little like a bizarre combination of vomiting and scratching an impossible itch. She released the energy and cooled the humid air to cause condense it into a thick fog and a light drizzle. Soft hisses of extinguishing embers reached her ears, as she leaned heavily against a tree.

“Sorry.” Her eyes finally adjusted enough to locate the shine off his brown hair reflected in the glow from a nearly bioluminescent mushroom. Kenan bowed his head low and kicked the ground.

“It’s okay.” She ruffled his hair affectionately. Despite being two years younger, his most recent growth spurt now put him several fingers taller than her, but she couldn’t help but think of him as the child that had come to live with them so long ago.

The smoke laden air brought her back from the musings of the past. “Just take a moment to consider what effect your spells could have before you cast. Not just to your environment, but think about the cost to you.”

He nodded his head mutely with down cast eyes.

“Okay, let’s go. I just hope the moths didn’t see that fire.” Emaline swept her gaze around the cavern and clutched her staff a little tighter. After invoking the rain, any further spelling might render her unconscious and leave Kenan to fend for himself. The conspicuous paper sounds of the beasts wings were absent so they resumed their walk down the now charred path.

She wasn’t used to so much darkness only illuminated by patches of mushrooms and the small pool of light provided by their borrowed glowstones. The streets of their cities were lined by hundreds of these stones and the elders claimed the light was so bright it reminded them of the glow of the setting sun.

I just don’t see how any fire can possibly burn for so long. Though she trusted the elders, Emaline couldn’t even begin to imagine a source of light that travelled by its own volition, and was so bright it could illuminate as far as the eye could see, yet too far away to ever be touched.  I just don’t understand how the entire sky wouldn’t by coated with smoke. She took shallow breaths to avoid coughing on the small amount of smoke that Kenan’s fire had created.

“Did you hear that?” In the darkness she thought she heard the dreaded whisper of wings.

“I don’t know.” Kenan hoisted his glowstone higher into the air to try to illuminate the threating void. They walked a little faster down the cleared path until a vague aura of light appeared at the edge of their vision.

She thought at first it was a trick of the eye, or wishful thinking. Then Kenan jumped and whooped in joy, but as he took off for the treasured stones, a shadow swooped down from above.

“Kenan! Down!” she screamed as she cooled the wet air into an icy cocoon around the monster’s wings. With a brittle crash it collided into the thick branch of a dying tree. Raw meat was exposed when the brittle bits of the moth’s frozen flesh flew away. She heard Kenan calling her name as she fought to keep her eyes open, but she had pushed too hard and the scant patches of light quickly winked out.

When she awoke she found herself strapped at a precarious angle to several branches that formed a makeshift litter. She watched as the leaves of the trees tilted to follow the light of the glowstone. It was mesmerising and she could have watched for hours, but one particularly large root bounced her head off the logs of the litter hard enough to convince her that walking would be preferable.

“Hold up, Kenan. Let me get off.”

“Oh thank the gods, I thought…” He didn’t need to finish the sentence, when the moths attack en masse several defenders would always be lost to the magic sleep which few recovered from. Within a week, at most two, they inevitable withered and died.

“I’m fine. I wouldn’t push myself that hard and leave you on this journey alone.” He helped her untie the fastenings and to her feet with the aid of her staff.

“This trip is far too dangerous. We have so many glowstones, why do we need more?”

“Come on Kenan, what if everyone decided that it was too dangerous to make this journey? What then?”

“I know, I know. We’ll die without them, but why can’t we just send out patrols?”

“And what if they were to all die in an attack? We all need to be able to protect ourselves. Besides, it’s a rite of passage. What good would it be if it were too easy?”

“So if a few of us die, too bad?”

“Yes,” she answered emphatically. “We can’t afford to coddle people during the days of the ice. Perhaps when the Green Man graces us, we can allow such gentle sentiments.”

“You sound like an elder.”

Emaline’s eyes fell on the great vine and a chill stole down her spine. “There’s only eleven stones left.” She counted twice to be sure.

“How’s that possible? There’s always been stones,” Kenan denied, walking further down the length of the thick vine. They followed the bare vine for several minutes until it disappeared into a wide crack in the wall of a vast tunnel. In a daze, they returned to the glade surrounding the few glowstones left.

“Now what?”

“Now we go back and tell the elders.”

“And then what?”

“I don’t know, Kenan,” she snapped as she cut free the glowstone that would provide for her until death. The Great Vine dripped thick milky sap into the greedy earth. “Just pick your stone so we can get back.”

The return trip through the dead forest filled her with a dread that had been absent previously. If they didn’t find more stones, this dead forest was their future. The crops would wither and die without the light of the stones, and without consuming the flesh of the glowstones, their magic would likewise evaporate. Without magic, the attacking monsters would pick them off and quickly their proud town would become nothing more than a graveyard.

They walked to the town center and she reached for the bell. Kenan stilled her hand, though. “Shouldn’t we talk to the elders alone first?”

“No, this is an urgent matter for the town to discuss.” She yanked the cord and let the bell ring loud and clear. The peal bounced off the rocks and alerted all of emergency situations.

People, in various states of dress, poured from their homes with eyes directed towards the skies for signs of a threat. Light from glowstones glinted off the numerous clutched weapons.

“Emaline, what is the matter of this?” Sitol demanded with a banging of his great gnarled staff.

“We have been to the Great Vine.”

“That is indeed good news, but certainly not worth alarming the entire town,” Sitol chided.

“The Vine is nearly empty. Only nine glowstones remain.” Whisper of alarms tore through the crowd.

“There is no cause for alarm,” Eidald called in a dry croaky voice. “The glowstones have dwindled before, but there has always been a bloom. The Great Vine will provide, we simply need to have faith.”

“And if it doesn’t?” Emaline challenged.

“If that happens, then we will follow the tunnels till we find more stones,” Sitol told the crowd in a calm voice.

“We can’t afford to wait. We have a dozen children that were due to take their rite of passage this year. What would you have them do? They cannot become adults until they undergo the journey. Will you deny them the right to make a home and have a family? Will they live off the good graces of the rest of us until all the stones are consumed and our town withers and dies?”

“Perhaps it is time,” Waldomar spoke at last in such a deep timber it seemed to shake the very earth.

“Waldomar,” Sitol shook his head in warning.

“Our young have been bringing us news of the dwindling fruits provided by the Vine. No Great Bloom has occurred. We must rely on ourselves to provide a solution now. Before it is too late.”

Conflicting murmurs rippled through those assembled. Emaline felt mildly betrayed that this information had been secreted away behind the doors of the elders, but now was the time for action, not feelings.

“Then we leave.”

“What if you’re wrong?” Halie, the newest mother of their town, clutched her child tightly to her breast.

“If I am wrong? If I have somehow missed a bounty of glowstones, then you can turn back. If we reach the clearing and the Great Bloom has occurred, then you can turn back. If I have chosen to lie, to incite panic, then you can turn back. Come with me. Pack your bags now, and come with me to find a new source of the stones. But don’t wait here, helplessly. Don’t allow inaction to take your lives as surely as it stole the vitality from the forest. You can see for yourselves! All of you!” She looked at the frightened faces surrounding her and felt a pang of sadness. Emaline knew with certainty that some people would choose to stay, some would choose faith and their inaction might kill them. She would grieve for them, but she wouldn’t let it freeze her. She slammed her staff into the ground.

“Gather your belongings and meet back here in one hour. Come with me to the Great Vine and see the dying forest. See the death that awaits. You don’t have to take my word for it.”


 

Anita C. Young is a Medical Laboratory Scientist who spends her free time thinking of ways to explain the supernatural and unexplained through science. Her latest book is the second book in the Kayara Ingham trilogy The Will of Tyr. She loves to occupy her free time with reading, writing, drawing, and spending time with her animals (two cats and two dogs).

 

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