CHAPTER 17 - CHILDREN OF SERA

Ye'Jou lost it.

"Quiet!" Fayte yelled at him. "You're only making it worse!"

The water began to ripple and froth where Rinmar was dragged down. Ye'Jou made his way to the edge of the lake, no longer screeching, but his eyes were locked to the lake. The roc wanted to dive after his master but clearly he was no good underwater.

"Just be quiet," Fayte said, trying best to remain calm. Water nymphs are very sensitive creatures. They will not like the smell of Rinmar. "Likely the water nymphs will return--"

--Ye'Jou screeched.

His voice echoed across the surface of the lake and send ripples across the calm surface of the lake. Fayte pounced on Ye'Jou's head and tried to hold his beaks shut, but the roc swung his head and flung him aside effortlessly. Ye'Jou turned back to the lake and reared his head before he screeched out once more. This time the lake responded.

Two columns of water shot at Ye'Jou and struck the roc. Fayte could see the shimmering forms of two children in the water columns, their arms tugging at Ye'Jou's body, washing away the mud and pulling the beast towards the lake. Ye'Jou fought and Fayte could only watch. Elemental nymphs were sacred beings in Hylan. Attacking one was a great sin and nymphs only behaved like this when they felt threatened.

"Children!" he yelled at the two watery forms.

The vague shape of a face appeared on the back of one of the nymph's heads.

"Please, leave the bird alone," he said, his arms held apart and hands spread open. "We mean you no ill."

The water nymph cocked its head to a side. The face disappeared and a third column shot from the lake and seized Ye'Jou by the neck. Together the three nymphs dragged Ye'Jou back with renewed force. Half of the roc's body was in the water, struggling to keep its head above water. If Fayte continued to do nothing then Rinmar was going to drown. There's no more need for Rinmar. I know where the demon is. Yet still he found himself acting.

Fayte dove into the lake and immediately realised that it was a mistake. A water nymph appeared before him in the shimmery form of an octopus. The nymph playfully swatted at him with all eight tentacles, before squirting a burst of water at him. Fayte swept it away and tried to look but it was no good. The only light he had was the moon, its rays weaving across the surface only, leaving everything else darker than night.

I was not trained for this!

A burst of light lit up the lake. For a moment he could see even the seabed. Seaweeds and corals grew in abundance. Tiny fishes and little predators lurked around the depths, but he caught only a glimpse of life. The light scared the fishes into hiding. Many of the corals lost their colours in an instant and shrivelled up. It was amazing. Fayte never knew that plants could do that. Rare it was that he had this chance to observe water life.

In the distance of the clear water, Rinmar was being pulled out from the depths. Fayte swished around and saw Ye'Jou being pulled out as well, both of them by the water nymphs. The next thing he knew, Fayte felt a hand wrap around his. It was like water swirling around his palm and fingers. The nymph's hand tightened around his, became colder like it froze a little, and Fayte began to feel himself rise.

The water nymph was kind enough to gently pull him to the surface and let him climb to land. Rinmar and Ye'Jou however were both flung onto the ground. It was like the nymphs wanted them out of their lake as soon as possible. Ironic, seeing as how they were the ones who dragged them in.

A white destrier greeted him.

"Whitesong?" He held her reigns and she helped pull him up onto his feet. "What are you doing here, girl?"

Fayte looked to where the light came from. A sphere of light hovered in Wilson's hand as he stood beside the lake. His hand held high above his head, his eyes shut gently, while his other hand gripped his tome. Preston flew across the surface of the lake, dipping his wings in and out of the lake. Water nymphs shot little streams of water at the white dragon. They even jumped from the lake in the forms of little fishes, splashing onto Preston before falling back into the lake in droplets of water.

The light faded from Wilson's hand and he took a step back. From the lake water began to gather and formed the shape of a humanoid. A woman, Fayte thought when he saw long hair wash down from the figure's head. She had no face and no features on her body. Only clear water ran through her, leaving a constantly flowing puddle around her feet connecting her to the lake.

Wilson went onto his knee and Fayte did the same.

"They are not of Hylan," Wilson said, agreeing with the lady water nymph that had yet said a word, but they were communicating. "Aye, milady. Aye… … Aye."

The lady water nymph turned to face Fayte. She raised her hand and swirling within the water was a piece of white gold. Fayte reached to his pocket at once. Father's seal. Nodding, she tossed the seal to Fayte and the instant he caught it-

"We greet you, Fayte of the Kaywin family, son of the Protector, Frendon of the Kaywin family."

Fayte shivered hearing the voice of a hundred speaking as one in his head.

"Greetings to you as well, my lady," he said, tucking the seal away.

The lady water nymph seemed to sparkle then, shimmering under the moonlight. She turned to Wilson and looked at him, communicating for a moment, before she raised a hand and finger to point.

"Aye, milady, I will investigate it," Wilson said, his head remaining low and his eyes focused on his feet.

A stream of water shot out from the lake and spurted on Wilson's face. The lady water nymph turned around quickly and waved at the water. Two little fishes jumped from the lake and dove back in. Wilson was laughing.

"Aye," Wilson said. "And no more stinky foot in your lake."

He nodded again before the water nymph fell apart like a miniature waterfall, splashing on the ground and seeping back into the earth and into her lake. Wilson rose to his feet as did Fayte and they walked over to each other. They saw Rinmar and Ye'Jou getting up. The roc nudged his master who was coughing out water.

"How did you find me?" Fayte asked as the two of them pulled each other into a quick hug. "I thought you were in Rondiar."

"Whitesong and I rode without rest when we saw Aunt Silvia's beacon as we neared Ironsville," he said, turning to the lake. Priests were able to channel magic to horses and stay their fatigue, allowing them to ride great distances without rest. It was only a matter of the priest running out of energy. "Preston, stop playing and get back here. Now tell me, Fayte, who took Amelia?"

The tone of his question came with the promise of retribution.

"Slavers," Fayte told him, leading them towards Rinmar. "They took Emily and the Scygard as well. We might have found their base, but there's a problem."

Preston landed on top of Ye'Jou's head, much to their surprise. The roc and the white dragon seemed to communicate, making noises at each other, growling and clattering their teeth and beaks. Preston crawled along Ye'Jou's back and went to see his wounds. With a snarl, Preston got Wilson to go over and take a look.

"If there are bandits, we smite them," Wilson said, placing his hand on Ye'Jou. "If there are a hundred bandits, we smite them all. Then we get my sister back."

"And Emily," Fayte reminded him. He did not blame his friend for Amelia was everything to Wilson. "There is a spell hiding the slavers. We were attacked by-"

"Fire." Wilson nodded. His hand glowed and the mud began to run from Ye'Jou's wound. Rinmar's patchwork was sloppy. Now Wilson was getting the wounds healed properly. "The lady of the lake told me. She saw fire shooting from the forest. It was too far for her to be of concern, but fire is no friend to her."

"That's all?"

"Were you expecting a sword?" Wilson said. Normally there'd be a smile with that. "No, she commanded that I investigate it."

"Commanded?" Rinmar asked, his face flushed.

The Prince was completely dry. All the water he coughed out found their way back to the lake.

He shared a look with Wilson and neither said a word to Rinmar. This lake is where the Queen of the water nymphs reside. No wonder Rinmar was attacked.

"Water nymphs are sacred creatures in our lands," Wilson explained, partly. "I am a servant of Sera and the nymphs are her children. That is why-"

"Are you not children of Sera as well?"

The Prince had a point so Fayte only shrugged when Wilson looked to him.

"Yes, we are," Wilson said dryly, the light fading from his hand. He checked Ye'Jou's wound. "Take it as an older sibling telling me to do something then." He stepped aside from the roc. "Your friend is healed."

Ye'Jou stood up and made a satisfied yelp.

"I thank you, healer," Rinmar said, bowing his head.

Fayte joined Wilson and the both of them walked closer to the lake. There they were close enough to keep an eye on Rinmar, and far enough that the Prince would not hear their conversation. Fayte recounted the events that had transpired since Kamille's interruption in the castle. When he came upon the point when Amelia was taken, Fayte noted a look in Wilson's eyes that went as quickly as it came.

"I should have watched her better," Fayte said, feeling the need for it, but Wilson said it was not his fault to bear. Yet you cannot help but feel that way. "Then I found Rinmar and we… …"

Once Wilson was filled in they began to plan their next action. Ye'Jou was feeling well enough to fly. Rinmar could ride even if Wilson had not healed his burns. Whoever attacked them made no attempt to pursue them. That troubled Fayte.

"Why?" Wilson asked, trekking through the forest with Fayte, Whitesong and Rinmar. Ye'Jou flew overhead, waiting for Rinmar's call.

"Shooting us down would prevent us from revealing their location," Fayte said. "Which I assume must be a secret. If they do not pursue us-"

"Then they must intend to move," Rinmar finished his sentence for him.

Now Fayte rode atop Whitesong while the Prince walked. He did not appreciate being interrupted.

"We should strike now," the Prince said. "I from the air and you from land. Your Princess may be gone by already."

"I know what I am doing, Saldarian," he told him.

"Emily is more important to us than she is to you," Wilson said, agreeing with Fayte's plan. "And do not forget that they have my sister as well."

"That is why we must-"

"We do not know who we are up against," Fayte told him. "Slavers, yes, but how many? Have they hired mercenaries for guards? Surely it is no small camp if there were so many arrows and fire bolts. How do you intend to fight mages, Prince?"

That silenced Rinmar.

They continued on in the darkness until Preston flew down and landed on Whitesong's back.

"Nothing?" Wilson asked.

Did we take too long? He shook his head. Fayte needed to remain hopeful. "If they had left so quickly then there will be tracks."

"How do you intend to get them back?" Rinmar asked. "You as well are no match against a mage."

"We ambush them," Fayte explained. "First we find where they are. Count their numbers. Then we will plan an ambush, if possible."

Rinmar scoffed. "And if not?"

I'll die before I let the Underlord get Emily. "Ask me again then."

Whitesong stopped.

He leaned forward to see if there was a log. Nothing was obstructing their way. A sudden tension seized his shoulders and crept up his neck. "Wilson, light!"

The priest in his white robe snapped his fingers and a sphere of light flashed to life in his palm. Fayte had his eyes shut before it happened so the flash did not blind him. But it did their enemies. Rinmar was caught by the light too, momentarily blinded, so Fayte shoved him to the ground just as an arrow flew past them. Shield in arm and sword drawn, Fayte charged in silence.

He moved quickly and drove the first man he saw into a tree. These men were likely either scouts or outriders. One shout from them and this situation could turn bad very quickly. Then again, the main camp may have already been alerted by Wilson’s spell. It was a mistake but they needed to turn the ambush around immediately or they would be dead by now.

Twigs snapped behind him.

Fayte spun and met sword with shield. The ambusher’s weapon bounced away and was thrown off balance. Without a moment’s hesitation, instincts kicked in and Fayte moved without will. His sword impaled the man through his heart. A cold shudder lost Fayte his sword then. With a deadened thump, the man dropped to the ground and no longer moved.

For a long while Fayte just stood there with his eyes set upon the body. Slaying ghouls and earth animations was nothing compared to killing another person. All it took was his sword driven into the man’s chest. That was it. A life gone. As fragile as the twig snapping under his foot. When he felt a hand on his shoulder, Fayte swung his elbow back but Wilson caught him.

"Relax," Wilson said, taking a step away. "It is only me."

A drop of sweat rolled off the tip of his nose. "I'm fine." Fayte wiped his face and went up to the body. He hesitated for a moment before he shook his head and grabbed his sword. I did not mean for this. Fayte yanked the sword from the body with a spurt of blood. He stumbled backwards but Wilson caught him.

"You are as pale as Whitesong," Wilson said, holding him steady. His hands began to glow and Fayte felt energy seep into him. "Harsh as it may be, you will get used to it."

"Were you this… this shaken, when you first…"

Wilson turned to the body. "I was but a boy with a sister to protect. I didn't know I had killed a man until many days later."

"Every life you take," Rinmar said, his arms wrapped around a squirming man's neck, "you will feel a bit of your soul fading away. Remember that feeling. It is what separates you from murderers."

The Saldarian Prince put his knife on the man's neck and placed his weight on it. Spasm seized the man from Rinmar but soon enough he became still like the others. Hot blood stank the air. During the time Fayte spent frozen in front of the man he killed, Wilson and Rinmar had taken out four others. The light had given them the upper hand and Whitesong helped to chase down one who almost got away.

Preston snarled at a bush.

"Supplies," Wilson said, kneeling beside Preston who found a bag hidden under a bush. "These men were on watch. There is enough food to last them until the sunrise. They were not trying to ambush us."

"Take the supplies," Fayte said, wiping his sword on his pants. Let the stench of blood follow him and remind him of what he had done on this night. "We will go on foot from here."

"Five guards," Rinmar noted. "The camp must be large."

A slaver's camp. They were not unheard of, but a slaver's camp was usually small. Easier to hide and easier to pack on short notice. One of father's officers had suspected of there being a hub for slavers. It made every sense to bring Emily here if such a place really did exist.

Fayte led Whitesong by her reigns. They moved as quickly as they could while making as little noise as possible. Fatigue was catching on quickly with Fayte and Rinmar, but Wilson was still alert and wide awake. To have ridden so far with Whitesong without stopping, Wilson's love for his sister could seem as fanatic sometimes. The drive he got from knowing his sister was in danger was beyond reasonable. Behind that calm but determined expression was surely anxiety and exhaustion. Fayte knew better than to point it out though. There could be no rest when the only family you had left was in danger.

Nor will I rest until I find you.

It wasn't long until they saw light in the distance. From there they slowed down and went more quietly. They bent low and crept their way closer. The forest began to clear up and they found a group of boulders to hide behind. From here they could hear clearly the voices of many people, chattering and yelling, screaming and barking. Voices of slavers and slaves.

"By the spirits…" Fayte gaped.

Peering over the boulders, they looked down a hollow in the ground with hundreds of tents pitched and hundreds more torches lit. There were almost as many cages as there were tents and each cage was filled with people. Men and women, children and old, all of them squeezed into cages like animals. Many screamed and cried while slavers outside yelled at them, whipping them with ropes, splashing them with hot water, and some even tossing burning coals into the overcrowded cages.

Sera, I beg of you, keep Emily and Amelia safe.

Fayte held Wilson by his shoulder. The look on Wilson's face frightened him. The way his friend gripped the stone under his fingers, with his mouth left ajar in disgust and his eyes filled not with fear, but with question. It was like he was asking, 'How could Sera have allowed this?'