Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Crystal Caves (Part 2 of 4)

This is an ongoing four-part story related to the Mancer Trilogy.  For an explanation and the first post, please click here.


Text below (like all text on this site unless otherwise stated) © Amelia Atwater-Rhodes.  If you share this work, please include clear credit and a link back to this site.


We last saw Naples narrowly rescued from a crispy end by Azo.  We find him again months or perhaps even years later.  It is hard to judge the passage of time in the Abyss.

The Crystal Caves: Part 2 of 4

Naples waited in silent stillness at the top of the wall that had once housed a community of shades.  The compound had been infested several years before with lesser demons who had torn apart most of those inside.  He had not been involved in that fight—he had been at Azo's home—but he had salvaged what was left of both building and survivors later.  It was now habitable once more.
The wind ruffled his hair as it began to rise.  Wisps lifted into the air and shone like stars before drifting down to bury themselves in the black sand.  He continued to wait.
"This is madness," Azo observed as she lounged beside him on the wall.
"I need the tools," he replied.  "I can't think of anywhere else I will find a more concentrated source of power."
"You're still mad," Azo said.  "I'm stealing your harem if you get eaten or cooked."
"At least I wouldn’t have far to go," Naples answered, with the ever-present thrill that went down his back as he wondered what would happen if he died here.  He wasn't even sure what had happened to the shades who had been destroyed.  He hadn't seen any of them since.
Shades did sicken and "die" in this realm, usually after being injured, at which point their forms faded.  But no one knew for sure what happened next.  Azo said they dropped to a lower realm, but admitted she only knew as much through hearsay.
The wind grew stronger, making conversation impossible.  Naples' eyes half-closed of their own accord, with the lashes separated just enough to see the fire as it flickered ever lower.
"Naples—"
He jumped as Parylene spoke.  It had been... how long had it been, anyway? How long had he been down here? The days blurred together.  Night seemed to become night without ever becoming day, and Naples didn't think it was a matter of the Abyss's rhythms of wind and fire changing.  His mind didn't track time right down here.
It had been a while.
And after all that time, he still wasn’t used to the way Parylene drifted about... well, like a ghost.  He was almost invisible to power, which was a sense on which Naples relied heavily down here.  It kept him alive.  It kept them all in food, and water, and beds, and enabled him to do his work.
He hadn't given up on his plan to return to the mortal realm, but breaking the veil between life and death was apparently not so easy.  He had managed in the past to almost see into the mortal plane, but then his power had given out and he had been pushed back.
He needed more power.
"Naples?"
Parylene, again.  His mind had drifted.  It did that this time of night, when he stood in the wind, as if the air itself stripped and scattered his thoughts.
"Yes?"
Parylene must have seen something in Naples' expression, because he stepped back, shaking his head, and said, "Never mind.  It will wait."
Naples nodded, and looked back toward the wind and the fire.
"What can I help you with?" he heard Azo ask.  She and Parylene retreated into the house, and Naples dropped down from the wall with more grace than he'd had when he did something similar long ago in response to the Call.  He had practiced.
By the time he reached the planes, the fire existed only in sporadic patches, pushed ever-lower by the howling wind.  The air was hot and smoky, but he moved through it.  His boots were soled with the shells of one of the beasts that lived on this plane during the fiery days, but he could still feel the residual heat through them.
It warmed him.  Despite being deep in the Abyss, he always seemed to feel cold—the result of only ever lying in the arms of the dead.
He crossed the planes with determined strides, trying to note the passage of time as well as he could to anticipate how long he could linger.  He kept his dagger sheathed, but held a stave with blades at both ends, which had served him well in the past for both defense and offense.  It was not as powerful as the dagger alone, but neither did it require being so close.  It also had a razor-edged ridge only a few inches from the grip, in case he had to draw his own blood during a fight.
Will they recognize me, he wondered, when I reach home?
He had not aged, physically.  That was one of the mysteries of the Abyss, he supposed.  Though alive by the technical sense of the term, he did not live on a mortal timeline.
He jumped back as a spurt of fire, skittering up the side of a jagged barb of what looked like obsidian, flared into sudden life.  The fire licked him, but did not burn.  That, too, was where he seemed to differ from mortality; though he believed Azo that the planes of fire at their peak would end him, lesser fire seemed unable to scald or blister his flesh, or even darken its color.
He traveled through the cold night.  When the winds started to die and the fire to rise again, he wrapped himself in a cloak he had created from, again, the hides and shells of the fire-living creatures... and he prayed to no one in particular.  The roar of the fire was deafening, and it beat against the sides of his cocoon until he feared he would pass out from heat or lack of oxygen... and then he did... and then he woke, when the world grew cold again.

He wondered if he could die, here.

Story will update Monday 3/27, Wednesday 3/29, Friday 3/31 and Sunday 4/2.  Stay tuned for Part 3! 

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