Chapter 23 Blood Fire

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Deven leads the group down the hidden path his men took into the canyon. It’s steep and several times someone slips on loose rocks. Luckily, the path is wide enough there’s no real danger of falling into the canyon.

The path ends at two pillars signaling the entrance to the city. Figures of the giant birds flying through the canyon are carved in great detail into the stone of the pillars. Their eyes watch the group as they enter the city.

Deven signals his remaining men and they leave, running through the streets with yells of excitement.

“They’re excited for the Festival tonight. For many it will be their first time home for it,” Deven explains.

The city is carved deep into the walls of the canyon, covered from the weather. Buildings of all heights stretch far into as well as along the canyon. In some areas, the city reaches all the way down to the river. There are hundreds of bridges connecting the city together across the opening, each at different heights, and a few connect together to make branches of bridges. Stone pillars provide support for the bridges. There are also larger pillars with multiple levels to support multiple bridges.

The group follows Deven through the city and onto one of the larger bridges. “Rooms have been prepared for you in the West wall. Feel free to explore the city as much as you like. Festivities for the Festival of Magic will be beginning soon. Most of the celebration will take place in the western square close to your accommodations.”

As they cross the bridge, the group’s eyes can’t help but peer down to the canyon floor where a mighty river cuts through the surrounding stone. Homes built along the river’s edge have docks stretching into the flowing water. Men on boats fish as others fly on the backs of great birds low to the water.

The birds are all sort of colors and patterns. They fly through the openings under the bridges and a few fly high in the sky. Some dive into the canyon and allow the wind blowing through the canyon to catch them before hitting the bottom.

“What are those?” Meah asks. “I’ve never seen birds large enough for men to ride!”

“Hokiocs. We call them Hoks for short. They’ve lived in this canyon for thousands of years. The stories say our ancestors followed their cries from great distances away until they found the canyon. The birds build their nests into the walls of the canyon, using their thick beaks and sharp claws to cut directly into the stone. Our ancestors mimicked them, creating what you see before you. Now our city has become one of a kind,” Deven says with obvious pride in his voice.

Once across the bridge, Deven leads them up to a higher level of the city. He stops before a large building with multiple floors. “This is where you shall be staying.”

A woman appears at the doorway. “Hello, brave travelers.”

Deven faces the group. “If you need anything don’t hesitate to ask Emeka. She and the others who run this hotel will be looking after you while you stay here.”

The woman, Emeka, waves the group inside. “Come in, your rooms are ready as well as the baths.”

Members of the group speak excitedly at both. Saunem coos at Tanith as she follows Daniil and Kylii inside. She ignores him, but the male Khorgoi only coos louder. Deven places a hand on Saunem’s head and the animal quiets.

“Deven. I have a request,” Jaxon says suddenly. He pulls Deven to the side and speaks quickly.

Meah tries to catch any part of the conversation, curious about what Jaxon is asking about. But the two men are too quiet and the group surrounding her destroys any chance of her overhearing.

Finishing their talk, Deven nods and places a piece of paper Jaxon handed him in his pocket. He leaves, Saunem trotting next to him. Jaxon enters the hotel, followed by Meah and Ime.

Emeka personally shows Ime and Meah to their room on the third floor of the hotel. Daniil and Kylii are on one side while Jaxon is across the hall, a room to himself.

Thanking Emeka, Ime shuts the door to prevent any more disturbances. A balcony stands at the foot of the large bed. The window is open to allow the gentle breeze moving through the canyon in.

Meah sits on the bed, taking a deep breath. “It seems like only a day has passed since we escaped the Arena. Everything between feels like a dream.”

Placing their bags by the door, Ime rubs his sore shoulders. “Waking from that dream is only going to bring nightmares.”

Meah looks at him. She holds a hand out to him, smiling. Ime walks to the bed and takes her hand. She pulls him down onto the bed next to her. She maneuvers herself behind him and moves her hands over his shoulders, massaging the tight muscles.

“Tonight, though, our minds should be filled with nothing but the Festival of Magic.” Meah adds a tone of wonder to the words.

“You want to go?”

“We were asked to enjoy it. I think it’ll be fun.”

Ime releases a loud sound as Meah works a knot on his back. Meah laughs, releasing some of her magic to loosen more knots in his back.

“I’d rather do other fun things,” he whispers, leaning back against Meah.

“Oh?”

A knock on their door briefly precedes Jaxon’s entrance. He pauses when he sees them on the bed. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything?” Ime and Meah shake their heads and Jaxon walks fully into the room. His armor is gone and he wears dark gray clothing.

“Good. Daniil and Kylii have run off into the city as soon as they dropped off their belongings. Tanith ran off with them. Bruer is sleeping. Bern, Mava, Rava, and Fleance are off to see the Festival. Lyrrel and the others from Eraunel are sitting in a circle chanting.”

Jaxon drops down next to Ime, lifting Meah off the bed slightly. Ime pulls away from her and she maneuvers herself next to him.

“You two are the only ones still here…rather, still here and conscious. Care to head out to see what this Festival of Magic is all about?” His blue eyes sparkle with magic and excitement.

Bumping against Ime, Meah gives him a look of pure childlike eagerness. She’s almost bouncing on the bed.

Ime eyes her with playful annoyance and shrugs his shoulders. “If we must.”

Meah squeals happily and leaps to her feet, grabbing both men by the hand. “Great! Let’s go.”

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