Chapter 22 Blood Fire

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The dense forest continues for many hours. Deven’s men break apart from the group occasionally to scout the areas around them. They confirm the group isn’t being followed by anyone from the bone village.

Saunem, the male Khorgoi, ventures into the surrounding trees, disappearing for several hours. He appears next to Tanith and playfully nips at her. She growls and swipes at his snout with her front paw. He leaps out of her reach and runs to Deven’s side.

“Looks like someone has a little playmate,” Kylii says, elbowing Daniil.

Tanith snorts and lowers her head angrily.

“Be nice,” Daniil says, not specifying whether he’s speaking to Tanith or Kylii.

Walking next to Jaxon, Bruer motions his head at Deven. “Who do you think they are?”

“I can’t say. They recognize the Eraunel men,” Jaxon says.

“But the Eraunel men won’t say whether they know these men or not,” Fleance adds. “Lyrrel will only admit they’ve heard of groups of men patrolling the outer edges of the forests.”

“But you think he knows more.”

“I know he knows more.”

Trees grow fewer in number. The darkness of the forest lightens as sunlight breaks through the thick foliage. Dark red bark changes to a light brown. Grass grows higher and thicker.

The end of the forest greets the group with the sun high in the sky. Stretching far into the distance before the group is an immense plain. The grass is a stunning green, reaching ankle height.

Meah is reminded of the plains she saw on her journey from her home to the Arena. Unlike those plains, the one she now stares at has no trees or hills. The flatness of the plain adds to the seemingly endless floor of grass.

Turning to meet Ime and Meah’s eyes, Deven says, “We won’t be stopping until we reach our home. If you need rest, this is where we leave you.”

Feeling the eyes on his back, Ime steps forward to meet Deven. “We’re fine. We’d prefer to be far from this forest before resting, anyways.”

With a wave of agreement, Deven orders the group forward. The openness of the plain is welcomed after the closeness of the forest. The warmth of the sun fills everyone with relaxing energy.

As they move further away from the forest, many in the group realize Deven and his men have been leading them in a zigzag pattern. When the path becomes too predictable, Deven changes the direction, creating a new pattern.

“Why such a tiring path?” Jaxon asks after three hours of the confusing pattern changes.

“To protect our home. With this, an easy to follow path isn’t made in the grass,” Deven explains.

“Wouldn’t they still be able to follow if they were searching for any kind of tracks?”

“Each journey to and from the forest is random, some taking us hours out of the way. There are many paths, but to be able to follow any back to our home are near impossible. It’s prevented anyone from finding us the past thousand years. Unless we want them to find us, that is.”

The forest disappears behind, the distant mountaintops the only reminder. The vibrant green of the grass dulls and the blades lower. Patches of dirt become visible, as the air grows warmer.

Water is passed through the group. Deven and his men kindly decline offered water, never grabbing for the jugs on their belts.

The sun descends in the sky. Weariness fills the group from the continuous travel. Even Deven and his men begin showing signs of tiredness, wiping the sweat from their brows and slowing their pace.

“We’re here,” Deven says suddenly, stopping. He and his men face the group.

Excitedly, the group looks ahead. But all they can see is more plains, their visions hampered slightly by the setting sun. Abandoned towers stand great distances apart, reaching high into the sky. No other buildings are seen.

“There’s nothing here,” Daniil says, angrily. “You can’t honestly all be living in these towers?”

“Is the rest located underground?” Bruer asks.

A smirk forms on Deven’s lips. “Not exactly.” He whistles loudly. It echoes behind him, louder than it should’ve been

A loud animal cry answers, seemingly from nowhere. The group searches the plains. No one can be seen.

The sun disappears below the horizon. Wind begins blowing from an unknown source. A giant bird explodes from the earth. Its white feathers catch the last of the light from the sun as it rises in the air. A man is seen on the back of the animal.

Shocked by the sudden sight, the group runs forward. Deven and his men move out of the way, watching the reaction of the group with large smiles and laughter.

Meah, Ime, Jaxon, Kylii, and Daniil are the first to see it.

Without the sun blinding them, the great canyon hidden in front of them appears, cutting the earth in two.

“The legendary city in the cliffs,” Jaxon yells in awe, laughing loudly.

A beautiful city is carved into both walls of the canyon, connected by hundreds of bridges. Giant pillars of stone give the bridges stability while still allowing the river at the bottom of the canyon to flow uninterrupted. More birds with men riding on their backs fly through the canyon, their calls echoing off the walls.

Walking up behind the group, Deven crosses his arms, peering down into the canyon. “We prefer Kellahn. That is the name of our city. Though legendary isn’t a title we’re used to hearing.”

“To those from beyond the mountains, your city is spoken of with great reverence,” Lyrrel says. “Apparently, travelers from their land visited your city and returned with great stories.”

“And nothing about Eraunel? Shame.”

“We prefer to remain hidden, Deven.”

“I’m getting the feeling you two know each other,” Daniil says.

“We apologize for the deceit. The original plan had been to meet your group as you exited the forest. But when you didn’t arrive at the specified time and we heard no word from Eraunel, we ventured in after you. It wasn’t until your Khorgoi found us we realized the village of bones had captured you. Since Lyrrel didn’t introduce us right away, I decided to keep our identities secret,” Deven explains. He smiles at Meah. “Of course, seeing your reactions when it seemed like our flyer had emerged from the earth was worth the charade.”

“You already knew of us?” Meah asks.

“Yes. The Life Healer who filled slaves with hope. The Elements Mage who had his fire stolen. And the mysterious Mage of Blue Fire. We’ve many allies across the land, including the ones beyond the mountains. They’ve told us of your great escape from the Blood King’s Arena.”

Ime faces Deven. “They must fly as well to reach your city before us.”

“As you’re well aware, Ime Gurek, there are many kinds of magic. As with the mages of Eraunel, we have means to learn of things from distant lands.” Deven claps his hands and motions several of his men to the cliff edge. They hurry to the edge and disappear down a hidden path.

“Enough talking up here. The sun is gone from the sky and there’s no reason not to head down. We welcome you all to our home. Our ruler, Altan, is unable to meet with you tonight, but he wishes to share his agreement that the self-proclaimed Blood King must be stopped. He’s happy to provide you an army.”

Relief and a feeling of joy fill the group. Their long journey has come to an end. They embrace each other, speaking of their excitement for reaching their destination.

Refraining from the celebratory hugs and talks, Jaxon leans his head to the side. “Why is your ruler unable to speak with us tonight? If he’s eager to provide us an army, then there’s much to discuss.”

“Tonight is our Festival of Magic. He wishes for you to enjoy it before discussions of dark things fills your minds. Come, I will take you down to Kellahn.”

Meah looks down into the canyon. As her eyes make out people moving through the city, she notices decorations. Lights being lit by both magic and with sticks of flames, line walkways. Large, open areas are cleared as stands and stages are built.

A hand takes hers and Meah looks up at Ime with a smile on her face. Ime’s grim expression causes her smile to fade, as his eyes look to her filled with fear.

She understands. Now they have reached the city in the cliffs, the weight that has been growing on everyone’s minds, no matter how much they try to force it away, repeats one word.

War.

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