Pillars of magma rise into the darkened ceiling. Specks of green lava float in the air, canvassing the ceiling like constellations. Purple quartz sparkles in the light of silver magma dragonflies—molten creatures buzzing to and fro as they collect minerals, lava dripping from their stingers.
Welcome to Brekh’cha.
Reisor, Feselea and Dane will be making their way through here as they journey to sanctuary in Caltswahn. But they are not alone—both their hunter and an unknown ally await in the caverns of Brekh’cha.
Brekh’cha: Dragon’s Fang will be published March 19, 2020 on Amazon (available for preorder now).
Check out the first chapter of Brekh’cha: Dragon’s Fang.
Two Years Ago
Thunder rolled across the night. Massive boulders soared through a lightning-streaked sky, crashing with stone-shattering booms into the city’s wall.
Before the wall stood rows of soldiers. With each crash, debris pelted their armor like stone raindrops. Still they stood without speaking, beating their armor—taunting the city. Drumming their shields with their swords, stomping the muddy grass with spears and boots. Soaked with rain.
On the wall soldiers were shouting. Catapults cranked as men ran to and fro. Archers loosed a volley of deadly arrows. Still the army before them did not break rank or cry out.
“What do they want?”
A soldier turned to his commanding officer. “We don’t know!” He pointed at the army. “We have no idea where they came from!”
Lightning silhouetted them as a boulder pierced the wall. More cries.
“Keep firing! They cannot lay siege so easily!”
The clanging of a thousand breastplates rose in pitch with the rain—the defiance of an unknown army staking claim to an impenetrable city. As defenders pointed and yelled—catapults firing on both sides, boulders crashing, lightning fracturing the night—none noticed a shadow scaling the eastern parapet.
He rolled over the wall as a boulder landed meters away. Coming to a crouch, he raised an arm to shield himself from the debris. Not bad so far. But how long until they noticed?
He adjusted his black hood, scanned the landing—then crept along the inside wall, ascending a staircase. Perfect. He leapt to the first landing, rolled to his feet and paused. Had someone spotted him?
He narrowed his eyes, pointed ears twitching. The defenders still seemed distracted…
No. The thunder was playing tricks on his ears. He was safe.
He leapt to the ground, ducked into an alley and took off. According to the map, the tower should be just beyond this intersection
Sidling up to the corner, he peeked around it. Two guards.
Lovely. He blew out his breath as thunder rolled, then picked up a stone. Tossing it over the guards, he waited for the clatter.
“What was that?”
He dashed past while their backs were turned. Way too easy.
Now for the tower. It loomed before him, lit windows adorning its face. He could start climbing at the right edge, but no, that was too visible…
Ah. A darkened window just meters away. He could climb into that…
Yes—perfect. He began scaling the wall, betting those soldiers were still investigating his lame diversion. A few more seconds—
Lightning! Very nearby. He blinked, black sparkles clouding his vision. Thunder clapped his ears as he punched out the window’s glass. Punching was careless and loud—but he had to get inside! If someone had seen him…
He opened the window and rolled inside. The army diversion was working surprisingly well—but the longer he stuck around, the more likely his luck would run out.
That, or the rain. Not much difference either way.
His eyes adjusted to the pitch black, a fancy bedroom forming in the darkness around him. A large bed held a snoring couple.
He crept past, saluting them as he reached the door. He always liked married couples. So funny in their feuds, when they really loved each other. But this one was sleeping peacefully. Apparently some people could sleep through anything.
He opened the door a crack and peeked out. The hallway was quite clear. A few torches burned, but no major lighting.
Excellent. He ran past closed doors, shoes silent on the stone. Reaching the spiral staircase, he stopped to listen. No footsteps…
He sprinted up, counting stairs. Third floor…fourth floor…
Fifth floor. Now things would get more interesting.
The guards were doubled here, so he would have to find an empty room again. He knocked on one door. No sound from the other side—someone was asleep, or the place was empty. He picked the lock and slipped in.
These rooms looked so comfy. Obviously only the wealthy lived in this tower. He crept past another couple and made his way to the window.
Now that he was higher up, perhaps no one would notice a crawling shadow along the tower’s edge. After all, people usually didn’t look at the top of a tower when watching for intruders, right?
Or maybe that was just wishful thinking. Only one way to find out.
He leaned out the window—looked up, plotted his course—and began his climb up the wall. The stone was somewhat slippery, but his gecko gloves were working quite well. His climbing shoes still slipped a bit. That was unfortunate.
Reaching the top window—it was dark—he procured a protractor scalpel from his cloak. Cutting a circle in the window, he adjusted his footing—
His feet slipped. He skidded down the rock—handhold, he needed a handhold!—and barely found the windowsill with his free hand. Setting the protractor on the ledge, he tried for a better grip. These climbing shoes were still better than the last pair…
With a grunt, he hoisted himself back to his position. Now for the protractor—
He knocked it off the ledge instead of grabbing it—and watched it plummet to the courtyard below, raindrops rolling down his cheeks.
Really. Clinging to rocks near the top of some tower in a lightning storm, climbing shoes that didn’t work as well on wet rocks—and now this. Most people would’ve failed right here.
He shook his head. Reaching into his cloak, he pulled out another protractor scalpel. That’s why he had a spare.
Finishing the circle, he blew out his breath. Still shouldn’t have happened.
Pop! The circle fell in as he tapped it. Reaching in, he felt for the latch and—click—pulled it. These openable windows. If they were just sealed shut, some break-ins would never occur! The risks people took just for occasional fresh air!
The window opened with a creak—he froze, pointed ears perked. Silent inside. He leapt in, lightning flashing behind. Closing the window, he checked for residents. This bedroom was empty.
The lounge was supposed to be nearby. The king would be there.
He tucked the protractor scalpel in his cloak, reaching the door. Opening it quietly, he peeked out. No one in the hallway.
So much for security. They must’ve figured the lower floor detachments would do their job and devoted more manpower to the siege. Not a terrible idea—unless they knew what was going on.
He crept along the hallway to a large room. A fancy yet cozy chamber with torches, carpeting and a fireplace. The crackling fire blended with distant peals of thunder. Nice lounge.
And reclining on the sofa, back facing him, was the target.
Ilár sprung from the sofa and spun to face him. Scanning his cloak, he swallowed. “Who—who are you?”
“Interesting question.” He grasped his hood with one hand. “One that deserves an answer.” Pulling back the hood, he narrowed his eyes. “Recognize me?”
Ilár scrutinized his black hair, blue eyes, narrow chin—and his eyes widened. “No—no, that’s impossible—”
“Not impossible!” He advanced on Ilár, fists shaking. “Just unlikely.”
“That can’t—” Ilár stumbled back, shaking his head, “—that’s not possible!”
“And yet here I am.” He pointed at the king. “So where are they?”
Ilár swallowed, rubbing his bathrobe with his thumbs. Glancing back, he murmured, “I—I’m not sure what you’re talking about—”
“Yes you are!” He raised his right forearm, where a grappling hook served as his gauntlet. “You know where this comes from!”
Ilár stared at the grappling gauntlet. “Yes—but I don’t—”
“Enough stammering! You know where they went.”
“I really don’t—” Ilár stumbled backward again, nearing the balcony. Lightning silhouetted him as his shaking palm found the archway. “I’m—I’m sorry. I honestly don’t know.”
“How? They didn’t contact you?”
The king shook his head violently. “Never.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Why would I lie?” He stepped backward onto the balcony, raindrops pelting him. “I have nothing to gain.”
“Except my trust.” He advanced on the retreating king. “Now tell me where they are.”
“I can’t!” Ilár was shouting over the thunder. “All I know is they disappeared!”
“That’s not good enough!”
“No one knows where they are! No one—” Ilár backed into the railing and gasped, tumbling over the rail.
“Ilár!” Siege lunged after the king—but too late. He looked over the edge, searching the void below. “Nooooo!” He hung his head, gripping the railing. “No…”
He inhaled sharply, thunder cascading. The mission was a failure.
His body went rigid—was that a gasp? He spun to see a maid fleeing the lounge. He’d been spotted! Donning his hood, he calculated. Could he climb? No, too risky. They were aware of his presence—he might as well paint a target on his back.
He bolted through the lounge, down the hallway—trying to keep his footfalls quiet—and into the bedroom. Lightning illuminated the window as he closed the door.
Yanking open the wardrobe, he blew out his breath. This was a stupid idea.
He shoved his soaked arms through one of Ilár’s robes, jerking it into place over his cloak. Actually, this whole mission was stupid. A desperate chance gone sour.
Scoffing, he made his way to the bed. “Ilár,” he whispered, crawling beneath the covers, “I never wanted you dead.”
He was so sure the king knew…
He froze. He was facing away from them. And Ilár’s bathrobe covered most of his wet hair, right?
“Be silent.” There was a “shh” and some footsteps. “There, see? The king is sleeping. There is no emergency.”
He heard a woman’s voice. “But that’s—I know I saw—”
“Don’t disturb us again.” He heard the door creak. “Close that as quietly as possible. And next time you have a bad dream, keep it to yourself!”
“It wasn’t—it wasn’t a dream—”
“Yes it was. The king is right there.” The door closed. Now there were only muffled voices.
He sighed. Apparently no one supposed an infiltrator would be stupid enough to crawl into the king’s bed. Hey look! What a wonderful hiding spot! No one will see me here! Smirking, he began pulling off the covers—
“Wait a minute.” He heard the door creak.
He flipped the covers back on. What now?
“Something’s not right.”
He was about the same size as Ilár…right—how could he forget. He needed to sound like he was asleep.
He started snoring. Everyone had a different snore—but maybe his would be close.
“Nevermind.” The door shut again.
Snoring. He almost chuckled.
Throwing off the covers, he leapt from bed. He had to climb out now—before they found the body. Wrestling the bathrobe off—wet clothes could really stick—he procured a climbing line from his belt.
Tying the line to a bedpost, he perked his ears. Rappelling was noticeable, but he needed to move fast. Not that it mattered in the end—he had already failed.
Licking his lips, he jerked the knot in place. Ilár, why?
Birds chirping. Rays of morning light silhouetted rows of immobile soldiers. Before them stood the city’s wall, cracked and pocked with craters. A few guards milled before it, but the real conflict was happening before the silent army. The city’s general and his advisor were arguing beside a catapult.
The erstwhile intruder observed from a distance, crouching in shrubbery. He spotted the general and his advisor, then squinted, zooming in closer. Like binoculars. His eyes were so convenient.
He saw their mouths move but couldn’t pick up the words. He perked his ears—there. Now they were tuned to that spot on the field.
“How is this possible?”
“It’s—well, it would appear—”
“Are these the soldiers that besieged us!” Spit was flying from the general’s mouth. “Is this the army that would lay us waste!”
“So far as we know, sir—”
“These are wooden dummies in armor! Machinated puppets!” He kicked one of the “hostile soldiers.” Its head bobbed, but it didn’t topple—courtesy of the pole holding it up. Some water spilled from a bucket on its back. “There’s no life in them!”
“I know, sir—”
“How did these things move?” The general advanced on him. “I want to know how they stomped and fired catapults!”
“Sir!” Someone wearing an engineer’s vest stepped from behind a catapult. “I think I have an explanation.”
“Really!” The general raised his chin. “Let’s hear it.”
“The buckets, sir,” the engineer began, “each one has a bucket on its back, and it’s connected to a lever.” He made motions. “When rain filled the buckets to a certain level, the lever would turn—and action would occur.”
“Action? You mean catapults firing?”
“Firing, soldiers beating their armor, you name it.” He spread his hands. “It’s brilliant.”
The general murmured something, pulling a leather pouch from his breast pocket. “That’s unbelievable,” he said, opening the pouch. He stuffed a brown wad in his mouth, then began chewing. “The brazenness—was everyone sleeping when he set this up?”
The advisor exchanged a nervous glance with his engineer. “It seems—it seems the culprit rolled the dummies in on catapults while the rain made it hard to see—it looked like an army marching up detachment by detachment. He must’ve looked like another soldier—”
“Are you serious?” The general spat on the ground. “So we have no idea who did this?”
“Sir!” Someone wearing a messenger’s tunic ran out from the city. “Sir, we have a description!”
“Of the culprit, sir!” Gasping, the messenger held up a paper. “The maid spotted him.”
The general snatched it from him, chewing furiously. “This is a regalite. He’s the one who killed the king?”
His engineer studied the paper. “Then he must also be the one who created the siege.”
“No.” The general narrowed his eyes, then spat on the ground. “He was the siege.”
They were calling him “The Siege.” The regalite who laid siege to an entire city and assassinated its king! What a brilliant maneuver! What a fiendish rogue! Keep a lookout!
On another day he might’ve laughed. But rolling in those armored dummies was a pain. As it was, he couldn’t believe the whole scheme actually worked.
Except for the part where Ilár died instead of answering his questions…which made the whole thing a failure after all.
He clenched his fists, staring at a poster bearing his face. The maid had definitely spotted him. And of course she would have a photographic memory.
Tightening his hood, he surveyed the market square. Vendors were shouting their wares, shoppers were haggling for deals—no one noticed him yet. But he couldn’t keep a hood on for the rest of his life.
He rubbed his chin. The whole kingdom would be looking for him.
He made his way down an alley, cloak swishing. What a disaster. His search was over. He needed to find some secluded corner of the world—
Wait. He stopped. What if he could turn the situation to his advantage? Make his notoriety work in his favor?
“The Siege”—sounded catchy.
No, no. Too long. People would probably abbreviate it to “Siege” anyway. Which—he cocked his head—actually sounded pretty good.
Siege. It was decided.
He looked over his shoulder, ears perked. The market square was bustling as guards shoved their way through. People were being checked. Soon they would come his way.
“Fine,” he whispered, adjusting his cloak, “find me.” He ducked around a corner in the alley. “Just not yet.”
He scurried down the alley, footfalls silent on the cobblestone. First he needed to build his résumé.
Dust rose along the plains as an armadillo-like creature rolled at breakneck speed. He skidded and bounced to a stop, uncurling into a standing position. Now straightened, he might have been mistaken for a human—if only his silhouette were seen. He spread his clawed fingers, sniffing the air with his armadillo snout. Gleaming in the bright sun, rubber-like hide covered the top of his muscled arms, the front of his legs, his head and his back. His chest was strong, gleaming like burnished bronze. A utility belt with pouches wrapped around his waist. His bare feet were spaced apart, claws digging into the browning grass.
A herodon, he was called. He served as a scout for his mercenary captain.
He spotted something near the horizon. A large cart, rolling along by itself. Dust rose behind it like mist from a lake on a cold day, distorting the plains beyond it. Everything seemed to shimmer in the heat, and the creature shook his head.
A mirage. That had to be it.
But the speed it was moving…had to be sixty miles an hour. Almost as fast as the herodon himself could roll. No cart could move that fast—even if horses were pulling it.
He shook his head. Had to be a mirage.
The herodon curled into a ball and rolled parallel to the cart, keeping his distance as he headed for camp. Grass crunched beneath as he accelerated. Mirage or not, that cart would not beat him.
Dane stuck his elbow out the window, eyes half closed as the sun burned overhead. They hit a bump, but the spinnivan kept rolling. He let his breath out.
Man, this was boring. Day three of their stupid trip from Ayphae to—what was it again? Caltswahn, right? He didn’t know. He just wanted to be there.
He let his eyes wander to the front seat, where his older brother Reisor was driving. Blonde hair, blue headband to match his tunic. Reisor wore the same thing literally every day. His brother actually liked the silence.
Dane tilted his head back, letting out an exasperated sigh. Seriously, why was this taking so long? He stuck his face out the window, the wind tearing through his mahogany hair. Nothing but plains stretching as far as the eye could see—though the way the heat made everything shimmer and warp was kind of cool.
Okay, enough of that. He turned to his left, where his sister Feselea sat in the other seat. Fes was asleep, head lolling from shoulder to shoulder with each bump. Straight red hair falling down her shoulders, her lips slightly parted. She looked so peaceful asleep.
He could change that. Dane tugged at her hair, and she yelped. “Dane!”
“What? Couldn’t resist.”
“I was finally asleep!” She growled in frustration, turning away from him. “I couldn’t sleep last night with your snoring the whole ride—”
“Yeah, well what am I supposed to do about that?”
“Cut it out!” Reisor turned back to them from the driver’s seat, gripping the steering wheel. “We are not going to argue about snoring again!”
“Because you’re both acting like kids!”
Dane crossed his arms. “You wanna run that by me again?”
“Yes. You’re behaving like a child.”
Dane’s jaw clenched. “You’re only a few years older than me, bro. And I’m twenty.”
“So you say. But you’re getting tied with basidiothread in ten seconds if you don’t settle down.”
“Settle down?” Dane’s eyebrows shot up. “Are you kidding me? And how do you even have basidiothread? Isn’t that from Ayphae?”
“Yeah. The Marden packed it in with our other supplies. He gave us plenty of food and material, remember?”
Dane did remember. He rolled his eyes. “Whatever.”
“I’m serious. I will tie you up right now. I will stop this car —”
A massive bump. Dane and Fes knocked their heads against the ceiling, but Reisor—of course he had his seatbelt on—only jerked in place. A huge bag leapt out of the passenger seat as their spinnivan jerked sideways, tumbling out the window.
Reisor slammed on the brakes, knuckles white against the steering wheel. They skidded to a stop, dust rising around them as Dane looked out the back window. The bag was still tied shut.
“Get them quickly,” Reisor whispered, gritting his teeth, “and strap them into the passenger seat this time.”
“Don’t tell me what to do.” Dane opened the door and hopped out in one fluid motion. The fact that his tarballs were in that seat was ridiculous. Just because he and Fes couldn’t decide on who would get the passenger seat didn’t mean Reisor should give it to a stupid bag. Reisor needed to back off from playing the parent.
Hang on. Something was wrong here.
He stopped, ears twitching. Nothing. He heard no insects, no birds—nothing.
He spun, scanning the plains. A breeze swirled the grass, ruffling his hair. Shouldn’t there be insects or something? Maybe cicadas?
No, wait. There was noise. A dull, faint pounding, like marching.
Dane turned, searching the land. There—just on the horizon, he spotted a line of moving dots. Was that an army?
He squinted, willing his eyes to zoom in on the dots. The dots grew bigger in his vision, like he was looking at them through a telescope. Whoa! He gave a start, and they were dots again. He’d heard “zooming in” was something all regalite eyes could do—but every time he tried, it startled him. He shook his head and tried again.
There. He could see the markings on their glistening black hides, the notches and pouches on their belts. He saw their fangs gleaming in the sunlight, though the creatures reminded him more of human-like armadillos. They were marching as one, snouts held high.
“Dane, come on!” Reisor leaned out the window and beckoned. “How long can it take?”
Right. Dane needed to grab the tarballs. He took one step toward the bag—
And watched as a hole opened up and swallowed it.
“Uh…” He took a tentative step. Dirt was falling back up into the hole, as if time had reversed. Now it was just a patch of dry grass on the plains.
The ground had eaten his tarballs.
Dane heard the spinnivan door open behind him. He turned as Reisor stepped out. “Dane, why—” his brow furrowed. “Where did your tarballs go?”
“I…I’m not sure.” He turned to the spot, swallowing. “A hole opened up and, uh, they’re gone.”
“Gone? Like that?” Reisor scanned the plains, as if the bag would pop up somewhere. He let out an exasperated sigh, running a hand through his hair. “This is completely ridiculous.”
“What’s that on the horizon?”
Now Feselea was out of the spinnivan. She pointed toward the moving dots. “I think I see an army of some kind. Are they—” she fell as a hole opened beneath her, yelping.
Dane and Reisor lunged toward her—but too late. Dane stopped before the hole, peering into darkness as grains of dirt fell back into place. “Fes!”
“Feselea—” Reisor fell to his knees beside him, clutching his head. “No, no, no…” He growled in frustration, arms shaking. “No! How is this happening!”
“Give her back!” Dane was shouting at the ground, fists balled. “She’s my sister!”
Their spinnivan jolted, cargo jostling as a bigger hole opened below it. They stumbled back, nearly falling as it tumbled into the darkness.
“Dane—” Reisor gasped as the plains swallowed him.
“Reisor!” Dane lunged for him—but no. His brother was gone too.
His eyes darted around the plains, and he raised his fists. “So that’s it, huh.” He leapt aside as a hole opened beneath his feet. “Oh, that’s not how it works! You have to come and get me!”
Fissures were opening everywhere. He leapt to and fro, grass falling from beneath his feet. He wasn’t going down that easily.
“I can keep this up all day!” He stuck his tongue out, barely dodging the next hole. “You’ll never—”
Wait. Maybe the holes actually went somewhere. If he hopped in one…
Yep, that was a good move. He could find his siblings! He dove headfirst into the nearest hole.
Darkness. Sharp points scraped his arms and legs, and he bounced off what felt like a giant stem. Something bumped his leg hard—tumbling, tumbling down—then empty space for a second. He hit the ground on his feet—and pain like fire shot up his legs before he collapsed.
Rolling to a stop on his back, he tried to focus. Oh, man—that hurt. He drew in his breath, teeth gritted. The only thing he could see was bright daylight in the opening far above—and that was disappearing fast. Grains of dirt were rising all around him—he felt a slight tug on his body, but not enough to lift him—filling in the hole. In seconds, the light was gone.
Then he felt nothing.
Siege narrowed his eyes and zoomed in on the herodon army. Their greaves sported mercenary markings. But what would they be doing out here? These were dangerous plains. Soon the holes would begin.
And where was their leader? There. A particularly bulky herodon led the army. His stride was confident, so Siege assumed he was experienced enough to know where he was going.
What? Right beside the herodon general—was that a humanite? And dressed in that armor…Siege knew that armor.
He zoomed in further. That face! Could it be? It’d been so many years—but there was no mistaking…
The humanite raised a hand, and the general followed. Herodons snorted, jostled their comrades, stomped the grass—then halted.
Smart. Right before the Pereth region. They definitely knew where they were going.
The humanite and general turned to face their army as Siege tuned his ears to them. Maybe he would get some answers.
“We have now reached what is commonly labeled the Brekh’cha Caldera’s Pereth region, where holes may swallow armies whole.” The humanite sneered at his army. “Make camp here—quickly—and at dusk we roll. I will supply you the coordinates shortly.”
Yes, it was Titanius. But what was he doing hiring mercenaries? Unless he expected to fight an army, it made no sense.
“What about you?”
The general was addressing Titanius. Titanius arched an eyebrow. “The holes do not bother me, Hrossar. They swallow only the incompetent.”
“Very well, sir. Will you be entering Brekh’cha behind us?”
“Obviously,” Titanius hissed through tight lips, “as otherwise, you would be hindered significantly for my sake.”
None of this made sense. Why would Titanius be entering Brekh’cha? His quarry would be nowhere close.
“While we’re camped, you will also be assessing battle schematics,” Titanius continued, handing Hrossar a scroll. “Memorize them.”
“As you wish, sir.”
Siege studied the humanite. The hunter had changed so little. Cruel eyes, shining metal armor—clearly polished every day—an equally polished shaved head, more brazen without a helmet…and of course, the whip. He still stroked his electrified whip. Perhaps it was the only thing he had any care for, as it had probably served him better than many of his attendants.
Siege scoffed. If Titanius still used attendants.
But apparently he did, because here he was! This time it was a lovely mercenary army. Herodons, even. Walking, talking beasts that could curl up like an armadillo and roll across anything. Rubber hides. Short snouts that snorted and whined. Retractable claws on their feet and hands, small ears like a cow—and superior combat capabilities. Often hired as mercenaries.
He recalled one of those awkward nursery rhymes that didn’t really rhyme: Remember, son, that fast one may run, but none can outrun the herodon. “Herodon” didn’t rhyme with “un.” It rhymed with dawn. Morons.
Siege wondered how long it would take before they got fed up with the draconian hunter. If they weren’t already.
Hrossar rolled up the scroll. “Done.”
“Excellent.” Titanius stroked his whip. “Set up the tents.”
The tents. Now Siege wouldn’t be able to eavesdrop! If it was too far away, he needed to see it to hear it. He would just need to get closer.
What would bring Titanius to Brekh’cha? Siege himself was only here for the rumors that herodons were in the area. This realm was rarely traversed without reason.
“Titanius,” he whispered, zooming out, “you’re smarter than this. There’s nothing here for you.”
At least it didn’t look like it. But what did Titanius know that Siege didn’t?
Siege adjusted his cloak. He would simply take another approach. If the tents blocked his hearing, there was always the more direct method.
He smirked. Time to pay Titanius a visit.
Voices. Somewhere above Dane—light shining in his eyes! He squinted. “What—”
Liquid filled his mouth. Delicious and sweet, like everything he’d ever wanted to eat combined, but not disgusting somehow. That was weird.
A tingling feeling filled his body. He heard cracks and felt fiery pain shoot through his joints. Then everything felt very pleasant.
“That ought to do it.” The source of the light in his eyes was talking. “I think his bones are all mended now. The helenberries worked. How are the others?”
“Just fine. Still a little dazed, though.”
“Aye, those concussions, they heal a wee bit slower. That’s alright.” The light stopped shining in his eyes. “How are you, lad?”
He blinked. Two boulders slightly larger than he was stood like pillars on either side. Ethereal yellow light filled the cave like it was lit by a central campfire. But no flickering…so no fire. And a scent like strawberries filled his nose. He tried sitting up.
Whoa—head spinning! “Oww!”
“Easy there, lad. Give it a few.”
Did that rock just talk? Yep, both of the rocks beside him had mouths. And as he looked closer—whoa. They had eyes too! With irises like gemstones. The boulders were perfectly round with stubby legs, and muscular arms of stone poked out their sides. The light seemed to gleam on their smooth surface, like they were polished marble. One was holding a sharp shiny rock—definitely the source of that stupid light in his eyes before.
“Are you alright, lad?”
Now the other one was talking. Dane must’ve hit his head ridiculously hard.
“I don’t think he speaks Laru.”
“Bah! Of course he does, Tohen. Everyone speaks Laru.”
Laru? There was a name for his language?
He scratched his head. Well of course there was. Stupid question. “Yep. I speak—uh, Laru.”
The other one laughed. “Maybe he lost his memory!”
“I’m fine!” Dane jumped up. The cave was spinning in his vision, but he caught himself by leaning on a boulder—or person, or whatever it was. “My memory is just fine!”
“Easy there,”—the boulder-thing wrapped three stony fingers around his elbow—“no one likes a hand in their face.”
“Oh.” He took his hand off. “Right.” He should sit down to stop the spinning. “Okay.”
“Now what’s your name?”
“Um…” He looked at Tohen. “I’m Dane.”
“Dane! Now that’s a fine regalian name! I’m Tohen!”
The other rock removed his fingers from Dane’s elbow. “I’m Kelmor!” He held up two stony fingers. “But you can call me Kel.”
Wow! Now that he was paying more attention, the Kel boulder-thing was made of some reflective rock that kind of changed between jade green and black when you looked at it from different angles. “Okay, Kel.” Dane held up two fingers. Maybe that was supposed to be hello.
“You new to the world, Dane?”
“Stop giving him a hard time. His brains are addled.”
The way they rolled their r’s was kind of funny. Dane half-smiled. “What are you?”
Kel pointed at himself with a rocky thumb. “I’m a labradorite, and my friend here is an obsidianite. Great boulders, lad—you blind?”
“No!” He cleared his throat. “Of course I knew that.”
“Right. You’ll be yourself in a minute.”
“So where are you from, Dane?”
He stared at the first boulder. “Um…” He didn’t really want to talk about it. “Well, Tehone—”
“Tohen. Yeah, I’m uh not from around here—”
“Oh, ya think?” They laughed again. “You look regalian.”
He spotted Reisor sprinting toward them. “Dane, are you okay?”
“Yep.” Reisor was already better. Maybe he was given the juice first.
“Feselea’s still recovering. She’ll be here soon.”
“Okay.” Dane tried standing up again. Agh—still spinning!
“We were just entertaining your friend here.” Kel patted Dane on the back, causing him to stumble. “Are you the head of this group?”
“Yes.” Reisor put his hands on his hips, looking around, “And we have a spinnivan somewhere—”
“And a bag of tarballs!”
Kel raised his hands. “Whoa, whoa there! One thing at a time!” His face popped out from the rest of his body, connected by a stony neck. He peered around. “You mean that curious wheeled contraption? We haven’t made pebbles nor rockslides of it.”
Reisor and Dane followed his finger to the overturned spinnivan. The supplies were scattered around it like it was Fes’s living space. And beside those—
“Wow! What is that?” Dane pointed at what looked like a river of glowing red-orange goop. Most of the light in the cavern was coming from it. “Can I touch it?”
“You can’t,” Kel said, patting him again—he lurched—“but we can.” He motioned to Tohen. “Show him.”
“Lad, this here is a substance called lava.” Tohen dipped his feet in the glowing goop. Steam erupted as he gave him a thumbs-up. “It’ll burn your legs off.”
“How come it doesn’t affect you?”
Dane turned to see Fes approaching. “Hey, Dane.” She pointed at the lava, then focused on Tohen. “I’ve been eavesdropping. What makes you immune to the lava?”
“We’re geolites, love. We’re made of rock.”
“Your friend told me, I know. But…” Fes tapped her chin. “Your friend here—” she pointed at another boulder-geo-thing, “—your friend also told me lava was melted rock. So how come you don’t melt?”
“Oh, we melt alright,” Tohen answered, chuckling, “but at much higher temperatures. It would take a real pressure cooker to juice us!”
“Which we have yet to see,” Kel added, walking across the lava to their spinnivan. He flipped it over without any effort, and a spinning mushroom whizzed feebly like a spinning top. “Not sure what’s wrong with your wagon, but these wheels have had it.”
“They’re spinners.” Reisor strolled over, then stopped before the lava. “Is there a way—”
“Of course!” Kel walked back across the lava, motioning to another boulder. “Fetch me a helenberry shell!”
A head and arms popped out from the boulder, and he waddled over to what looked like a strawberry bigger than he was, but with thorny skin like a pineapple. And…oh wow.
“That’s an insanely big briarpatch,” Dane breathed, craning his neck. Stretching to the ceiling far above, a massive briarpatch with vines thicker than Dane curled tons of different ways, with a multitude of tiny thorns and big, thorny berries. The briars wound around the whole cavern. “What is that?”
“You’ve never seen helenbriars?” Kel accepted the helenberry. “What, do you live in a hole in the ground?” He laughed at his own joke. “Ah, I’m just teasing. Who are you people?”
“We’re…” Reisor shifted, averting his eyes. “We’re just travelers.”
“I can see that!” Kel punched the helenberry. It split cleanly in half. “Where’re you going?”
“Can I ask another question?”
Kel turned to Fes. “As many as you need, love.”
She pointed at the lava. “When I fell in this cave, everything was dark. What happened?”
“That was low tide,” Kel explained, scooping out the helenberry’s insides. “The lava tide has come in now.”
“Oh. So it operates on—wait a minute…what’s a tide?”
“You don’t know what a tide is?” Kel furrowed his brow. “You really do live in a hole, eh? I’m no fancy expert who could explain, though.”
“Oh.” Feselea’s cheeks were a little red. She hated not knowing things. “Um, okay. Tohen, do you know?”
“I…I don’t want to explain it right now.” Tohen seemed almost impatient. Maybe he wasn’t the type to answer a lot of questions. “Ask me later.”
“Maybe someone else’ll tell you.” Kel turned his focus to Dane, a scoop of helenberry in his palm. “Want some? You still don’t look very good.”
He took the fruit and stuffed it in his mouth. How could something taste so good? “Do these just grow here?”
“All by themselves,” Tohen said—he was scooping out the other half. “They’ve been over-harvested to extinction everywhere else. But we can’t eat them.” He tapped the shell. “We just sell the meat or use it to revive people, then use the shells to canoe on the lava.”
Kel smiled at Reisor. “Which is what you’re about to do.”
“What—” Reisor stared at the shell. “We’re going to float on the lava?”
“Unless you’re heavy as an aragonite.” He barked another laugh, then patted Reisor hard. “It’s alright, lad. Not everyone gets my humor.”
“You’re an odd stone, that’s for sure.”
“Eh, more or less.” Kel’s head popped out from his round body again, like it was its own appendage. He settled his head close to his round body, giving himself just enough distance from it to allow things like nodding. Dane got the sense that this was Kel’s preferred posture. “Now can we fetch a shell for this here lad—”
“I don’t need one!” Dane was feeling much better after that last mouthful. “I can make it across.”
“I don’t know, lad. That’s a good meter and a half—”
“Just watch me.” Dane took a running start and leapt across the lava. Ow!—heat almost singed his legs. “Easy.”
Kel beat the ground—was that supposed to be clapping? “Not bad! I’m impressed.”
“We all are,” Reisor mumbled, shaking his head. He put his shell on the lava, crawled in and pushed off. His shell started drifting across.
“Also much safer. Dane, how are you going to carry everything back without a shell?”
Everything—wait. “My tarballs!”
“I saw them over there.” Fes looked at him with raised eyebrows and pointed. “Have fun.”
Dane spotted his bag of tarballs nestled in some briars near the ceiling. He cocked his head, then shook it. “Yep. Maybe.”
“We need more shells anyway.” Kel crossed the lava. “This wagon-thing is dead. We’ll have to transport your goods on shell.”
“Transport where?” Reisor was pulling out supplies and arranging them in different piles—trying to sort them, Dane guessed. Pointless, but whatever. “To the surface?”
Now Kel laughed hard. “You really aren’t from around here! It’s far too dangerous up there because of the sink-holes.” He pointed up. “Do you want to get knocked out again?”
Reisor stopped sorting. Glancing at Fes, he asked, “What are we supposed to do then?”
“Get your goods to Ticora, and they’ll provide you with a proper underground transport.”
“Aye, lad. It’s the capital.”
Reisor looked around. “The capital of what? This is a realm?”
“All of this.” Kel spread his hands. “Welcome, lads and lass, to Brekh’cha.”
The Flames Chronicles, Book One
The Flames Chronicles, Backstory to Ayphae
The Flames Chronicles, The world of Ayphae
The Flames Chronicles, Book Two
The Flames Chronicles, Book One
The Flames Chronicles, Backstory to Ayphae
The Flames Chronicles, The world of Ayphae
The Flames Chronicles, Book Two