Forsaking Darkness

Ira Nevsky has suffered from a sinister past and her future is dim when she is cast into a monster invested realm by an unknown source. Ira and her sister, Capri, manage to survive the dangerous terrain by rescuing other unfortunate beings banished to the realm. But there is the one sacrifice that changes everything. Marc Fischer is that rare element that all creatures in this realm crave -- human. Ira is the only obstacle between the beasts of the land and Marc. With the help of the towns blacksmith, Avena, and Capri's apprentice, Mercy, the group is able to travel through uncharted territory and discover that whoever sent them there was much greater then they could possibly image.

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3. Part 1: An Element of Darkness

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     My legs blurred against the passing pines as I raced across the woodlands. Chimeras followed close behind in a flaring rage. Their growls and roars were evident that they were only after the hunt. Two saddles were nestled safely under both my arms. I caught Avena’s silhouette in my periphery and I took the opportunity to snap a fleeting look towards her. One of her arms coiled around an oversized saddle and her body indicated she was having trouble holding the colossal object.

    I had to devise a plan to get rid of the pursuing creatures who were gaining distance. My mind flipped through all the possibilities until I constructed one to keep Avena and the others from harm. Even if it did put my life in danger, it didn’t matter. All I cared about at the moment was Avena’s safety along with my sister and the others. Slowing my pace to match Avena’s, I explained what I could.

    “Avena,” I said.

    Her breath was heavy and rapid but she replied, “Yeah.”

    “I have a plan,” I said. “These saddles are weighing us down so take these.”

    I handed over my two saddles. Avena tussled for a decent grip but the rest of my plan would hopefully give her enough time to rearrange herself.

    “Now, I’m going to stall. I need you to do what you have to do to get those to Capri and the others. I’ll take ‘em out and catch up to you if you haven’t reached the clearing,” I explained.

    Avena allowed the noise of our pounding feet and the roar of chimeras’ to bleed into the conversation. I was growing impatient while she thought of how to reply. Finally, she stated, “Ira, I trust you but don’t expect me to take shit from Capri for agreeing to this. She’ll have my ass if something happens to you.”

    I chuckled a little. “Well, I don’t see how facing several bloodthirsty chimeras alone can go wrong,” I said sarcastically.

   Avena rolled her eyes. “Just be careful is all I’m saying.”

   “I always am,” I replied.

    My pace gradually hindered until I came to a complete halt. The chimera’s hammering footfalls grew imminent as I turned my attention in the direction of the noise. Austere melodies of the hunt filled the night air with dread for those running away from their inevitable gruesome death to come. Fortunately for the hunted, I was the only meal on the chimera’s menu that night.

    Once the beast’s features were clear enough for me to see properly, I started to focus on allowing the supernatural energy coursing through my veins to accumulate. A few sparks of crimson lightning branched off my body and snapped the ground like a whip. Regardless, the lumbering beasts never faltered and kept a steady course charging in my direction. My concentration intensified as bundles of streaking lights protruded off my skin and into anything nearby. I elevated my arms to allow the burning light a more stable flow. Instantly, the chimeras picked up on this odd occurrence and slowed their pace to a complete stop. Their faces revealed they still wanted to rip me limb from limb but they were too caught up in my light show. Ultimately, their ignorance and rage got the best of them as they skulked closer.

    The pressure of so much power lifted me several inches from the ground surrounded by a ball of lightning. Seconds before I could strike the lingering creatures, a chimera leapt towards my back. I felt the arrogant beast’s presence and struck him down with a lightning bolt protruding from my metal encased hand. The beast fluttered to the ground in multiple grains of ash. Its fatal mistake was underestimating my power. I never tore my glare from the clan of chimeras standing before me. They, on the other the hand, watched as their colleague was reduced to ash. A growl rattled in a chimera’s throat as they darted their glower in my direction.

    Without permission, a burst of light flashed before me. A sheet of ivory white took over my sight which forced me to depend on my other senses. I could hear my lightning crackling in all directions but I was unaware of specific locations of which it landed. The pungent odor of charred flesh caught my attention and I became aware that the destruction around me was no longer in my control. My heart pulsated feverishly as the realization settled in. The white light blinding me dissipated and my body tumbled to the ground. Dizziness took over while my surroundings blurred and swirled together as if in a confusing painting. A sharp pain throbbed against my skull.

    I let out a moan while I attempted to stand. Getting to my feet through the agonizing pain was a challenge but I managed to do so cautiously. My good hand rubbed against my temple. I hoped the gesture would sooth the aching pain but all was forgotten when a high pitched scream resonated in the direction Avena ran. ‘Shit,’ I thought. A hissing roar reverberated from the same direction and it sent a chill through my body. ‘Manticore,’ I thought. With all the strength I could muster at the moment, I rushed in the direction of the noises. Manticore’s are intelligent and hazardous. Taking on one manticore could grant anyone a chance of survival as long as they knew what they were doing but taking on a clan of manticores would be considered a death sentence.

    I dashed past the pines surrounding the dirt riddled path. My determination never faltered, even when fear set in. I couldn’t stop thinking about Avena’s mangled body. When I tried to push the image out of my mind, it came back stronger and his cries for help filtered through into the thought. Butterflies fluttered in my stomach as I realized I was losing grip on reality. ‘NO,’ I thought, ‘you can do this! You are Iraina Nevsky and you never stand down for anyone or anything.’ The thought alone had so much truth and power behind it that the troublesome thoughts and memories evaporated for the moment.

    He called for me, “Ira!” And he cried my name over and over and over.

    I could only respond with a quick, “Ah,” as the pain in my head came back. I gritted my teeth to keep myself from answering the memory. The manticore was several yards away and wasn’t aware of my presence just yet. A small amount of relief ran through me. ‘Thankfully it’s just one,’ I thought. My vision panned over to Avena who scuffled across the ground on one of her elbows. She was trying to reach the three saddles lying in disarray on the ground. My legs drove me closer to the beast but suddenly all movement idled. I blinked for a millisecond and when I opened them the shadowed figure from my memories stood in the manticore’s place. One final deafening scream echoed through my head, saying, “Ira, help me.” I charged at the figure using all the pent up rage I’d harbored for it.

    Our bodies collided and the force behind the push sent both of us rolling deeper into the woods. Low hanging branches whipped my body. More pain rattled my senses and I grunted a few times. Once my body stopped, I laid facing the night sky. I could tell my dizziness was returning. A hissing roar caught my attention as I tried to recover myself. By now, the figure resolved back into the manticore, or at least what I could see through the haze. Dread sank in once I realized my mistake. It was ready to rip me limb from limb and there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t fight a manticore in this state. It was approaching me, a deep growl vibrated from deep within its throat, and I knew it was coming for me. The colossal blob rushed at me. I would have accepted my fate if not for the red figure bursting from the shadows in the surrounding woods.
     My vision cleared enough for me to understand what was going on. The crimson coated creature clashed with the manticore. They were engaged in a vicious tussle but this was all I could make out. As I regained my footing, Avena rushed to my aid, ignoring the creatures fighting behind her.

    “You alright?” Avena asked.

    “Yeah,” I said through an inhale.

    “What the hell were you thinking?” she scolded.

    I took a moment to think about how I would respond. If I told her I confused the manticore for the dark figure watching him being murdered, she would call me insane. I couldn’t afford the reputation.

    “Adrenaline,” I claimed.

    Avena sent a suspicious glare my way but the mayhem happening before us took Avena’s attention off the suspicion. The manticore took a swing at the opponent but the creature ducked. It missed the blow and took the opportunity to make the killing. With incredible agility, the crimson furred creature clasped its razor sharp canines around the manticore’s exposed throat. The manticore hissed in pain and tried to flail about. None of the manticore’s blows hit its intended target and only added to the already severe wound. Inky black bile dripped off the surrounding fur. It poured out profusely when the crimson furred creature removed its sharp teeth from the wound. The manticore dropped to the ground, giving a few spasms of life before moving into a deeper, darker realm of Hell.

    The crimson furred creature turned towards me, its muzzle dripping bile but its eyes read of concern. I gestured for Avena to hand over a saddle. She obeyed and handed over the saddle intended for the creature. Taking hold of the saddle, I walked towards the crimson furred creature. I knew this particular beast all too well. The technical term for the creatures is vox but I call him Pyre. He had the lengthy legs, elongated ears, and bushy tail of a fox while his other features were wolf-like, except for his fur color and size. I approached Pyre and wiped some bile off his muzzle.

    “That’s a good boy,” I said.

    Pyre set his wet nose on my forehead in a way of greeting. After a few seconds he became restless and began checking me for injuries by sniffing. I allowed it. He wouldn’t be much of a companion if he didn’t.

    “Alright,” I said after a few minutes of Pyre sniffing me, pausing, then proceeding with his routine.

    I sauntered over towards his back and threw the saddle onto his back. With Avena’s help, we managed to get the saddle fitted and suitable for travel. We climbed onto the saddle and rode Pyre back to the clearing where Capri, Yarrow, and Marx would be stationed.

    We arrived at daybreak to find Yarrow feeding the white griffin, Echo. To the other side of the clearing, Capri was introducing Avena’s narix, Mirage, to Marx. The narix was a beautiful creature. Only two aspects stood between Avena’s narix and a lion, which were the majestic wings and powerfully elegant antlers protruding from its forehead. The narix could easily take down a chimera or manticore.

    “Ira! Avena! You guys made it,” Yarrow said once she realized we arrived.

    Avena and I slide off Pyre’s back and sauntered over to greet everyone. Capri checked me without question and sighed in relieve when she realized I had no injury to my person.

    “What took you so long? Was it the chimeras?” Capri asked.

    I nodded. “Yes, but we shouldn’t have to worry about them catching up.”

    Capri gave me a suspicious glare and I could tell she was pondering her next question.

    “Well, Pyre ran off when he heard the manticore,” Yarrow stated while looking at the vox.

    “Thank the gods for that,” Avena said.

    Marx gravitated towards the encircling group. I found this behavior to be odd and confusing.

    “Come on, Frey. We don’t have all day,” I said.

    He took a normal pace towards the group and stood in the empty space between Avena and me.

    “Okay, everyone, this is the plan,” I said. “First, I have broken us up into teams. Team one will be Marx and I. Team two will be Avena, Capri, and Yarrow. If we have to split up for some reason that is who you’ll be with.”

    I stopped to allow any questions to be heard. None surfaced so I continued.

    “Second, according to Yarrow’s map, we should reach the witch’s cabin in three days so we need to travel through the day and camp at night. Once we set up camp, we will need a watchman to alternate every four hours until daybreak. Then we are back on the trail.”

I paused again for any questions but no one raised any concerns. Marx was the only person in the group who had not heard the plans repeated a million times but he didn’t have any questions or feel the need to poke holes into the plan so I continued.

    “We leave as soon as the others are saddled. The weapons will be distributed at the next camp. For now, we need to focus on getting as far away from here as possible,” I said.

    They nodded in approval. Capri retrieved Echo’s saddle from Avena and began adjusting it to the griffin’s back with Yarrow’s help. Avena saddled Mirage with great skill and was ready to leave in the matter of minutes.

    “Uh,” Marx said, “what do I ride?”

    I turned to him and looked at Pyre. “You will be riding Pyre with me,” I responded.

    Marx accepted my judgment without a rebuttal. When I turned my attention back to Capri, I found she already mounted Echo along with Yarrow, and Avena had been ready for several minutes. I turned back to Marx.

    “Do you know how to mount?” I asked.

    He gazed up at Pyre. “Yeah, of course. Why wouldn’t I know how to mount?” His shoulders shrugged as he spoke and his hands did many random gestures. I could tell by the lines creasing his forehead that he was nervous and didn’t know how to climb onto the saddle. I rolled my eyes as he attempted to mount the beast but fell to the ground several times.

    “Oh, for shit’s sake,” I said as I mounted Pyre’s back with grace and looked down at Marx.

    I offered him my hand, which he took, and I helped him onto Pyre’s back. Once he settled, he leaned the heel of his palms against his thigh, nerves getting the best of him. I presumed it was because it was a foreign creature carrying him, not a car or horse. He wasn’t use to how things worked here and it made me impatient. I sighed.

    “Frey, you need to hold onto my waist if you want to say on,” I said.

    I could hear him mumble nervously, “Oh, yeah. Right.”

    Gently, he placed his hands at my waist. My impatience was on the verge of spilling over but I held it back for a tad longer. I grabbed his wrists and pulled his arms to wrap completely around me.

    “Whoa,” Marx said, shocked.

    “Cursum,” I ordered.

    The vox obeyed the command and began walking the narrow path leading to the witch’s cabin where maybe we could find some answers as to why we were sent here and at what cost.

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