The Air Runes - Chapter 5

The Last Descendant: The Air Runes

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Chapter 5: The Riddle of the Forest

Cail spent the majority of the next couple of weeks mulling over the riddle, trying to conjure up any solution that didn’t include venturing into the forest. It was a prodigious and ambiguous region. There were no maps of the territory, no techniques or methods for navigating through it, for no one had dared to attempt an infiltration and escaped with their life.

Cail dreaded going where he sensed that the riddle was leading him. On many occasions throughout the weeks, he would walk to the edge of the forest, looking into its darkness. He could feel it taunting him, almost mocking him. When he wasn’t fretting about his pursuance of the riddle, he worked on reading through the book that he had stolen from the library. He learned a great deal from the book, but it was incomplete. There were gaps throughout its history. It was a book that the Lords had written themselves, creating journals. The Lords would write about their personal lives, the verdicts and pronouncements that either helped or hurt their citizens, or they would write for pleasure. The more Cail read, the more he grew frustrated by the fact that he could not find any mention of Tarvaris Ozean.

Cail retrieved the poem that was written by Tarvaris and placed it next to the book. He glanced back and forth between his book and the poem for several moments, then leaned back in his wooden chair and let out a heavy sigh of exasperation. Maybe Laney would be able to help me! Cail thought to himself. He placed the poem inside the front cover of the book, leaving the top tip of the poem exposed, and ran out of the house and down the dirt road to Laney’s home. He walked in her front door, they were such close acquaintances that he never knocked anymore, and he joined Laney while she sat on the edge of her bed. She flipped through the ancient pages, being careful not to tear any. Cail remained silent, allowing her to focus.

“I really have no idea, Cail,” Laney said after several long moments of focus. Cail could hear that she was disappointed in herself. “I do wish I could help you, but there’s just too many voids in the records. I’m sorry.” Cail stood up and walked over to the window. His frustration began to consume him and it swelled into anger, causing him to slam his fist onto Laney’s wooden desk. Cail was so dominated by his rage that he didn’t even feel the pain shoot through his hand. Laney then ran over to Cail and hugged him, trying to comfort her friend. “Is there something else that’s bothering you?” Laney asked. Cail could hear that she was worried about him.

“I’m afraid,” Cail said. His voice was shaky and anxiety filled his words. “I fear that I must go into the forest. There is something I must find there.”

“No! I won’t let you!” Laney exclaimed. “You’ve heard all the stories of people disappearing! I care about you too much, Cail.”

“Laney, this is something I absolutely must do.”

“Why? What could be so important that you would have to risk your life by going into the forest?” Laney asked fretting for the sake of her friend. Cail then proceeded to tell Laney the entire story of his visit with Lydia. He started by telling her about the vision that he saw during his sleep, then he informed her about the true history of Elona, as Lydia had told it, and after that, he recited the riddle that was posed to him.

“You’re sure you want to leave Elona?” Laney asked after hearing the wave of plights that had been thrust into Cail’s life.

“Laney, there is no other option for me,” Cail said, showing his determination. “I’ve always had a fierce desire to find something bigger, something that would fulfill me. The path in front of me is concealed and covert. I don’t know anything about the worlds I will be traveling to, or who I will meet on my expedition, be they friend or foe. The only thing I do know is that this is the path I must take.” Cail had a new fire in his eyes, a new tenacity. He had never felt this vehemently toward anything in his entire life.

Laney could see that there was nothing she could say to sway Cail; his mind was cemented. “If I can’t stop you, then I will go with you,” Laney said with a smile on her face, showing her support for her friend.

“No,” Cail protested. “The forest is far too treacherous. I couldn’t live with the guilt of letting something bad happen to you.”

“I wasn’t asking,” Laney said. “Either I go with you, or you don’t go at all.”

“Fine,” Cail said, realizing that he was not going to be able to convince Laney otherwise. “I’m going to go home and pack for the trip. I don’t know how long we will be inside of the forest. Meet me just outside of the Western Fence at sundown.” Laney agreed and then Cail went back to his home. There he dug from his closet an old, leather bag, slightly larger than his chest, and began to pack it with clothes and necessities such as some fruit and grains for meals. He also packed Emey’s whistle along with a small hunting dagger that his father gave to him when he was a little boy. It had been in the family for years, passed amongst the Lords. The dagger had a wooden hilt with many intricate grooves and the blade gleamed in the light, however, the edges were beginning to rust. Once his bag was completely filled, Cail hid the bag under his bed. He anxiously waited in his room until dusk, then he made his way toward the forest, narrowly avoiding the detection of his father.

By the time Cail reached the Western Fence, the sun had vanished. He sat in the cooling grass and lingered there until Laney showed up. As Cail stared into the forest, he could feel a sinister darkness radiating from the trees. A muffled whisper hissed at Cail, but it was indiscernible. Then the whisper started to gradually grow louder, but Cail could see no one standing in the forest. Cail rose to his feet in fright and took a few steps backward. He felt a small hand rest on his shoulder and he spun around to see Laney standing right behind him. Her other hand held onto a brass handle that was connected to a glass lantern, which was flickering in the darkness. She had a leather bag of her own hanging on her back with two matching leather straps draped over her shoulders.

“What’s wrong, Cail?” Laney asked, with a look of concern on her face.

“Nothing,” Cail said, trying to calm himself. “Are you ready?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Laney replied. They both cautiously walked into the forest. It was just as Cail remembered it from his childhood. The grass was thick and rose above their knees, the trees towered over them and spied on their every move, and an eerie fog settled throughout the forest, hindering their eyesight. The forest was damp, cold, and smelled of mildew.

“Do you have any clue as to what we should be looking for?” Laney asked after they had been walking for a while.

“′The night’s sun, the forest shrine′ is what the first line of the riddle read. I surmise that it refers to the moonlight shining on an area of the forest. The only problem is that there are trees everywhere, so it’ll be hard for moonlight to peek through. We need to find some kind of open patch of land.”

“Do you think we should have brought Kadir along?” Laney asked, changing the subject.

“I didn’t even want you to come,” Cail chuckled. “The fewer people that know about this voyage, the better.”

“Do you think he’ll be upset?” Laney inquired.

“Not if he doesn’t find out,” Cail replied.

Cail and Laney walked around the forest for hours with no sign of triumph. The forest was a labyrinth of trees. They had no maps to guide them and all the trees seemed to be identical to each other. After a few hours of walking, they decided to assemble a small campfire using branches from the nearby trees and sparked the fire using a couple of stones. The flames gave Cail and Laney rejuvenating warmth and tranquility. The light made Cail feel safe from any possible harm. It created a mental sanctuary for him to take refuge in.

After a few moments of silence, Laney asked, “You really mean to go through with your plan of leaving Elona?”

“If I’m able to solve this riddle, yes,” Cail replied.

“What about Kadir and myself? And the rest of Elona? You’re just going to leave us behind?”

“I won’t be gone forever,” Cail assured her. “I’m simply going to see what the world has to offer. I promise I’ll come back.”

“Do you know you’ll be able to? You don’t know what’s out in the world. There could be forces much larger than you can imagine!” Laney yelled. Cail could see a couple of tears start to surface from the corners of her eyes.

Cail waited for Laney to calm down and then he said, “I’m sorry you’re upset by this. I wish you and Kadir could come with me, but I won’t allow myself to drag the two of you into any danger.” Laney didn’t say anything in response, she just blankly gazed into the fire while Cail sat in silence and snacked on some of the fruit he had packed. For a few moments, the only audible noise was the cracks of the flames. Finally, Cail rose to his feet and said, “I’m going to walk around for a few minutes.” Laney nodded in acknowledgment.

Cail felt relieved to escape the tension between him and Laney. He was in such a hurry to depart from the campsite that he didn’t even bring any of his belongings. The light began to dwindle from behind Cail as he walked further away, however, he decided to stay close enough to the campsite so he could still see the emanation from the fire. Cail was still intimidated by the dark forest, but walking by himself allowed his mind to be cleared. He had not thought about how Laney and Kadir would feel regarding his departure from Elona. The thought of never seeing them again stirred his emotions. Trepidation and alienation started to consume him. He was beginning to grow weary from being volleyed between the excitement of venturing into an unknown world and upsetting the people he loved.

After being gone from the campsite for almost a half an hour, Cail decided to begin walking back to check on Laney. Then he heard a snap of a twig from behind him. Cail spun his entire body around and scanned the trees that were behind him, but he could see nothing. “Who’s there?” Cail yelled, hoping to scare away whoever, or whatever, had made the noise. All was silent for a moment, then he could hear heavy footsteps in front of him. Cail’s eyes searched feverishly for any kind of movement, but all he could see was darkness.

Then Cail’s bones froze as he saw a figure emerge from the darkness. The figure appeared to be a man, but much taller than Cail and with shoulders that were twice as wide. A hooded black cloak covered the man so that Cail couldn’t see his face. The man stood still like a statue made of stone. Even though his face was invisible, Cail could feel the man’s eyes piercing through him. Then the man slowly lifted his right arm, revealing a pale, bony hand. The same hissing whisper Cail heard just outside of the forest crept from underneath the hood of the man.

Cail broke free from his petrification and sprinted toward the campsite. He spasmodically looked behind him to see the cloaked man chasing after him, but he was flying off of the ground! How is that possible? Cail thought as he continued to frantically scamper away. After what seemed like an eternity, Cail reached the light of the fire and he heard the man make a painful racket from his mouth that was similar to Emey’s screeching. Then Cail stumbled into the campsite, alarming Laney.

“What happened?” Laney asked, astonished by Cail’s dismay.

Cail waited for a moment to catch his breath and then said, “We’re not alone. A man dressed in black was following me, but I think the light scared him away.”

With haste, Laney grabbed her glowing lantern, along with the rest of her belongings, and said, “If there’s something else out there, we better be quick in finding what we’re looking for.” Cail nodded in agreement.

Once again, the two friends embarked on their peregrination. Cail remained silent, still terrified from the earlier events. After more hours of searching through the forest, Cail started to become worried the sun would soon rise, which would force them to wait until the following night to solve the riddle. Then he suggested that they start moving more swiftly, for he knew that the darkness was waning. Cail’s legs began to grow heavy as they briskly ran through the tall, thick grass. After almost an hour of running, Laney stopped and put her hands on her knees, gasping for air. While she recovered, Cail plopped onto the ground, depressed from the failure of the night.

“We should have never come here,” Cail said, feeling dejected and dispirited.

“Well we’re here,” Laney said as she sat next to her friend. “Besides, I don’t mind going on an adventure if it’s just you and me.” Laney’s compliment made Cail smile.

“I thought you wanted Kadir to come?” Cail asked with a chuckle.

“Because I would feel bad about leaving him out. He’s always so−” Laney fell silent as she looked up to the treetops.

“Kadir is so what?” Laney paid no attention to Cail, her eyes were fixated on something above them. Cail looked in the same direction and saw the moon shining through a slim gap between the trees. It shone so brightly Cail needed to squint his eyes. Normally he had no interest in the moon, but this was no ordinary moon. A thick beam of white light careened from the moon into the forest, not far from where they rested.

“That’s where we need to go!” Laney exclaimed. “Let’s hurry before the sun rises!” Cail agreed and they darted off in the direction of the beam of light. Weaving through the trees, they moved with a new energy, an energy full of hope. After a couple minutes of running, the colors of the plants and trees began to lighten. Adrenaline coursed through Cail’s veins, his heart pounded like a drum, and his legs moved like feathers through the wind. In the distance, Cail could see the end of the trees and light that shone beyond them, the same light that emanated from the moon. To the shock of them both, the two friends stumbled after they passed the final tree. Down they fell, tumbling down a steep slope of grass that was not green, but as white as the moonlight. Finally, their aching bodies came to a halt. Cail fended off the throbbing pain from his freefall and rose to his feet. He was in a state of ambivalence when he stood up because he couldn’t believe his eyes.

Cail stood on a vast mass of land, as flat as a sheet of paper. The lunar light illuminated the entire field around him. The grass was nothing like the grass of the forest; it mirrored the moonlight, as white as the clouds of the ocean. It was short, thin, and soft, as though it had been freshly cut. All around the field was a slanted slope leading back into the forest, creating a bowl-shaped ravine.

Cail was astonished by the immensity and beauty of the new world that surrounded him. Laney began to climb to her feet and grimaced because of trying to fight through the pain from the fall. As Laney examined the surrounding area, her mouth gaped open and her eyes widened. Then Cail noticed that the ground wasn’t completely and uniformly flat; there was a small bump in the middle of the field, although it didn’t match the bright hue of the adjoining grass. Due to the bump being so far away, it was difficult to discern exactly what it was, but it appeared to be made some sort of dark, gray rock.

“I think that we found the shrine,” Laney said, turning to Cail.

Cail kept his eyes fixated on the bump that he saw in the distance. “What do you think that is?” Cail asked.

“We won’t find out by just standing here,” Laney said, cracking a light smile. Then they simultaneously bolted toward the bump. As they approached it, it started to grow larger until Cail could see that it was a giant boulder, twice as tall as Cail stood, covered in light vines that matched the grass. After several minutes of intense sprinting, they reached the prodigious boulder. “It’s just a large rock,” Laney said, dispirited that there was nothing of interest to them.

Even though it was just a plain, massive boulder, it still intrigued Cail. He shifted a couple of the thick, leaden vines and placed his hand on the rock. It was as smooth as a marble and gleamed in the moonlight. “Below the rocks, since the dawn of time,” Cail said, reciting the riddle. He thought silently for a moment as he gently kneaded the boulder. Then he turned to Laney and said, “We have to move this boulder! What we’re searching for is beneath it!”

“Move it?” Laney asked with a voice filled with incredulity. “That rock is sure to weigh more than twenty men! We can’t move it.”

“We have to!” Cail exclaimed. Laney tepidly agreed to help. They both braced their feet into the soft ground, matted their palms onto the side of the rock, and began to push. They strained with all their might, but the only thing that moved was their feet through the slippery grass. After a couple of moments of failed endeavors, Cail collapsed to the ground, exasperated by his failure to budge the boulder. Cail’s emotions started to swell up inside him. He was hungry, sore, and sleepy from the taxing adventure he had taken through the night.

Laney was still standing upright on her feet. She had been examining the vines that covered the boulder while Cail rested. Then she exclaimed, “There’s something beneath the vines!” Cail jumped to his feet to inspect the rock and noticed a bulge on the side of the boulder. The bulge was level with Cail’s shoulders and as big as his head. Cail briskly began to rip off the vines to see what hid beneath. Laney protested at first, but she was unsuccessful. The vines revealed a cerulean jewel indented into the polished boulder. Cail marveled at the jewel and it also lured Laney into a state of entrancement. It was spotless, without a crack on its surface, void of a single speck of dirt. A perfect gem with sharp edges and gleaming beauty. Cail reached out to touch it, but then yanked his arm back when the gem began to radiate a dazzling luminescence. Somehow, the jewel appeared to be catalyzed by the moonlight. The gem glowed as bright as the moon which shone upon it, causing Cail and Laney to shield their eyes from the intense radiance. The light then started to expand, causing the entire boulder to become a massive, shining sphere. Then the light evanesced and after it was safe to look at again, Cail and Laney saw that the boulder had disappeared!

At the locus where the rock sat, there was a hole in the ground, a hole that was the larger than a door. Cail and Laney cautiously approached the crater and noticed that inside of it was a staircase made of stone leading down into the ground. Cail had spent the last couple of weeks weaving through his mind, trying to ascertain the answer to the riddle that Lydia had given to him. He spent the entire night sprinting into an eldritch forest and being chased by an unknown entity. At long last, Cail had his answers lying just before him. He just needed to take the first step.

Laney was standing next Cail, holding her luminescent lantern. She was flabbergasted by all she had seen in one night, frozen in her disbelief. Cail reached for Laney’s lantern, gave her a nod, and proceeded down the staircase, into the newly discovered cave.

This is only a small portion of Cail's adventure! If you would like to read about the entire tale, click on the image below to purchase the book!

The Last Descendant: The Air Runes
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